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Theater Review

This 'Pajama Game' Revival Not Completely Seamless

May 09, 1998|LAURIE WINER | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

Sometimes an idea's strength is also its weakness. Reprise! is the series that reprises, with joy and skill, musicals from the golden age of musicals. Its mere week-or-so rehearsal time and its short performance schedule helps attract good casts and therefore full houses, and its bare-bones staging often works to de-emphasize the slight books that mar many musicals not in the very top rank.

With Reprise!, we can focus on the charm of the songs and watch the excellent onstage orchestra. But when you throw together a musical, you sometimes get a musical that just looks thrown together.

This, unfortunately, is the case for "The Pajama Game," the opener in Reprise!'s second season. Very little gels in "The Pajama Game," most particularly not the chemistry between the show's romantic leads, Christine Ebersole and Dorian Harewood. When the couple emerges in the finale wearing one pair of pajamas between them to signify their union, you wonder why their jammies are better matched than they are.

This, despite the fact that the song that ties them together is one of the best ever written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. "Hey There," a wonderful pining number, is reprised with regularity throughout the score and the elegant orchestrations (by the ubiquitous conductor Peter Matz, who deftly enters the comedy from time to time). They sing it separately, which is how they should sing everything.

*

Ebersole plays Babe, the head of the union grievance committee at the Sleep-Tite pajama factory. Harewood is Sid, the new no-nonsense supervisor. When the issue of a 7-and-a-half-cent hourly raise becomes a deal breaker between union and management, Babe and Sid find each other on different sides of a bitter controversy. Can true love win out?

The show says yes, but the production, directed by Will Mackenzie, says no. Ebersole is statuesque, with a voice as bright as a trumpet and a comic aura that suggests the cross-pollination of Lucille Ball and Eve Arden. She can sell a song, but she keeps to herself during duets. The only time Harewood seems really comfortable is when playing Sid's sullen side. But Sid the charming, Sid the smitten, eludes him. In this show, the lovers throw around the phrase "I love you" as easily as a beach ball, and with as much passion. The book is by Richard Bissell and George Abbott.

*

Patti Colombo's dances range from the generically cheerful ("Once-a-Year Day") to the witty ("Hernando's Hideaway") to a lackluster Bob Fosse tribute ("Steam Heat").

Thursday night's crowd gave the latter a rousing cheer. But, unfortunately compared to the dances in the fully produced "Chicago," which just opened at the Ahmanson (this is Bob Fosse week in L.A.), the under-rehearsed "Steam Heat" looks like a number in a school play.

As the secondary comic couple, Peter Scolari and Christina Saffran Ashford have some funny moments.

But by the end of the night, when the cast emerges in an impressive array of pajamas, the costumes look more inviting than they should.

* "The Pajama Game," UCLA's Freud Playhouse, (parking in Lot 3), Westwood, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Ends May 17. $45-$50. (310) 824-2101, (213) 365-3500. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Peter Scolari: Vernon Hines

Bob Amaral: Prez

Darrian Ford: Joe

Kenneth Kimmins: Mr. Hasler

Christina Saffran Ashford: Gladys Hotchkiss

Dorian Harewood: Sid Sorokin

Brooks Almy: Mabel

Chad Borden: First Helper

K.W. Miller: Second Helper

Christine Ebersole: Catherine (Babe) Williams

Mary Garripoli: Mae

Palmer Davis: Brenda

Jill Matson: Poopsie

Randy Hills: Max

Chad Everett Allen, John Charron: Steam Heat Boys

Ensemble: Kathleen Dawson, Denise Holland, Tracey Langran, Dee Dee Weathers

A Reprise! production. Music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell. Adapted by Jerome Kass and Will Mackenzie. Producer Marcia Seligson. Directed by Will Mackenzie. Musical direction and new orchestrations Peter Matz. Choreography Patti Colombo. Sets David Sackeroff. Lights Tom Ruzika. Costumes Marcy Froehlich. Sound John Gottlieb and Philip G. Allen. Original orchestrations Don Walker. Original "Steam Heat" choreography Bob Fosse. Managing director Bryan Burch. Stage manager Meredith J. Greenburg.

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