'Pajama Game' Still Wears Well

Out-of-date And Cliched, Play's Humorawakened By Annapolis Troupe

August 06, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

The only way to handle a piece of period fluff like "The Pajama Game" is to go for it: to play it for every silly laugh, every outdated expression, every cliched line you can grab onto.

When that zingy '50s spirit is there, the results are worthwhile because "The Pajama Game," a story of love conquering all in a sticky labor/management romance, is a silly-funny, extravagantly tuneful show that is worth doing well.

The notion that love can overcome the distinctions of economic class might gladden the hearts of the eight or 10 Marxists still left in the world, but even a confirmed dialectical materialist might feel his toe-tapping to the hits that dot this score: "I'm Not All in Love," "Hernando's Hideaway," "Steam Heat" and "Hey There" (You With The Stars In Your Eyes).

I'm happy to report that the Annapolis SummerGarden Theatre's production of "The Pajama Game," which will play across from the City Dock through Sept. 7, is a zesty affair highlighted by spirited acting, very good singing and the willingness of the entire cast to enter into the good-natured fun of the show.

The fiveprincipal players are all quite strong.

Babe, the pajama maker who leads her union's fight for a long-sought raise while falling for Sid Sorokin, the plant manager, in spite of herself, is played by Laurie Nettles, a feisty charmer from her first entrance through the curtain call. There's more of a hint of '90s female assertiveness superimposed atop the '50s doll, and it's very becoming.

Nettles sings exceptionally well in her bright, breezy mezzo, delivers her lines withspunky assurance and convinces the audience that Sid would have to be crazy not to fall head over heels for her.

The other half of this hunkish couple is Jason Fulmer, who also is very good as the smitten plant manager. He, too, enters fully into the spirit of things as the melancholy fella who's new in town, as the earnest, fair, all-around guy just doing his job, and as the enthusiastic lover who's finally met the girl of his dreams.

Only in the singing department is Fulmer a bit uneven. In his opening song, "A New Town Is A Blue Town," he displays a rich baritone voice that captures Sid beautifully. But he never quite got that admirable quality back Friday evening.

Numerous phrases in "Hey There" and "There Once Was A Man" were delivered in a tenorish timbre with a hint of falsetto that didn't quite match the character. It's a baritone role all the way (John Raitt, ya' know), and we know from his first number that Fulmer's got the stuff. If he could extend that tone color to the other songs, he'd be terrific. But, as it stands, he's still very good.

Hines and Gladys, the obligatory nutty comic couple, are real high points of the show. Peter Kaiser is very funny as Hines, the knife-throwing efficiency expertwhose clumsy jealousy of Gladys, the boss' secretary, gets him into all sorts of drunken, pantless pickles.

Margaret Allman is a wonderfully high-strung Gladys, guzzling gin, reprimanding her crazy boyfriend and dancing the tango at Hernando's Hideaway with great style. For all intents and purposes, Allman is the show's choreography, and she certainly is up to the task. She sings very nicely as well.

You'd never believe that the nerdy, nasal union man Prez is played by the same actor who brought the virile, love-'em-and-leave-'em "Marco the Magnificent" to the stage in "Carnival," the summer's first ASGT production, but he is. Robin Chapin is a versatile fellow, to say the least.

The ensemble players are talented and energetic, for the most part. Tina Pitner, Mindy Braden and Diane Douglas are noteworthy contributors.

The overall pacing of Act I was terrific; it flew by. The beginning of Act II, however, needs more juice. Granted, it's a downer (Sid and Babe have hit the skids), but the energy musn't flag. The opening two scenes in particular could be sharper.

Other snafus will undoubtedly be smoothed out in time. I'm glad someone finally started the tape for the fanfare that opens the fashion parade. We'd still be there waiting for something to happen if they hadn't.

Theshow's only uncomfortable moments occur in the opening ensemble number, "Racing With the Clock." Syncopated afterbeats are always tough to sing, but with canned accompaniment and no conductor beating time, they're impossible. That's just how they sounded.

*

A corrective note: In last Friday's review of "Grease," I misnamed the young lady who did such a wonderful job bringing the obnoxious Patty Simcox tolife. She is Tiffani Baldwin, a 16-year-old junior-to-be at Severna Park High School.

Sorry, Tiffani. Your career is taking off just as I'm starting to go senile.

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