“The Pajama Game,” a musical comedy that opened on Broadway in 1954 and is being presented in Queens by the Marathon Little Theatre Group in Douglaston, is surprisingly relevant, because who today cannot identify with the need for a fatter paycheck?
With a terrific batch of songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, whose burgeoning career as collaborators was cut short by Ross’ untimely death at the age of 29, the show is set primarily in a pajama factory, where the new superintendent tries to keep things on track. He is soon smitten by the female head of the union’s Grievance Committee, but politics interfere in the romance as the workers demand a pay hike — to the tune of “7 1/2 cents” an hour. A major plot development revolves around a threatened strike by the workers, and there’s also more than a little hanky-panky going on in the workplace, all very innocent, of course.
Because this is an old-fashioned musical in the best possible sense, in the end, things work out for everyone.
In shows like this, it’s generally the songs that bring back memories and create the longest-lasting impressions, and with titles that include “Hernando’s Hideaway,” “Hey There” and “Steam Heat,” not to mention “7 1/2 cents” the hit tunes keep coming nonstop.
While over two dozen performers are kept busy all night, singing, dancing and making merry, two performances stand out.
Frank Auriemma as Hines, the time-study expert who “can time anything,” is a song-and-dance man in the style of an Eddie Foy, Jr. (who created the role on Broadway) or, to use a more current reference, a Joel Grey. With expressive saucer-size eyes and a bag of tricks for milking the crowd, he is a pleasure from start to finish.
And the other standout performance was by Bob Alpert in the nonsinging role of the no-nonsense company president.
Gary Ducoing, as the superintendent, possesses a lovely singing voice and is always pleasant to listen to, but he is a miscast leading man, lacking the physical and vocal heft required by the role. As his love interest, Heather Bilczic sings well and, together, they make a believable pair.
As Gladys, the president’s secretary, Tanya Fiebert has lots of energy and gets to display her powerhouse voice. Austin Auriemma shows conviction as the union president. Sue Fiebert, a secretary named Mabel, has her moment in the spotlight in “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again,” a duet she and Auriemma handle with aplomb. The show’s producer, Sandi Plotkin, takes full advantage of her time on stage as well.
Barbara Auriemma has directed with a steady hand, wisely alternating scenes behind and in front of the curtain to allow for nearly uninterrupted action while the sets on the postage-stamp size stage are changed. Surprisingly, a climactic moment near the end of the first act passes by without the requisite impact.
Musical director Rhea Arkin keeps the melodies flowing and choreographer Lindsay Levy has devised some simple but pleasant dance moves for the game ensemble.
Overall this musical is so of its time, and of ours, that its charms are impossible to resist.
When: March 16 at 8:30 p.m.,, March 17 at 3 p.m.
Where: Marathon Jewish Community Center 245-37 60 Ave., Douglaston
Tickets: $18; $16 for seniors and children