Arts and Entertainment

Love fills ‘The Pajama Game’

Above left, Amy Musselwhite, center, plays the lead role of Babe Williams in WWCA’s Pajama Game, but she’s adamantly not in love with company   superintendent Sid Sorokin. Above right, WWCA player Rachel Ewen gets funky during one of “The Pajama Game’s” signature songs — “Steam Heat.” - Bill Mickelson/staff photos
Above left, Amy Musselwhite, center, plays the lead role of Babe Williams in WWCA’s Pajama Game, but she’s adamantly not in love with company   superintendent Sid Sorokin. Above right, WWCA player Rachel Ewen gets funky during one of “The Pajama Game’s” signature songs — “Steam Heat.”
— image credit: Bill Mickelson/staff photos

Nothing says love quite like a labor dispute in a pajama factory.

Sarcasm? Much.

But in the 1955 Tony Award-winning musical “The Pajama Game,” which the Western Washington Center for the Arts debuts this weekend, that phrase is actually accurate.

The labor union at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory is seeking a raise of seven-and-a-half-cents per hour for its members, but the company resists. With a strike imminent, the factory superintendent falls in love with the leader of the union grievances committee. And of course, she resists, initially.

Over the course of the ordeal, she, Babe Williams played by WWCA newcomer Amy Musselwhite, softens a bit, until a demand from the superintendent rubs her the wrong way, causing her to throw a wrench in everything, invoking a general break down among company workers.

He, Sid Sorokin played by another newcomer to WCCA, Justin Carroll, immediately fires her.

Through a whirlwind of happy-go-lucky, heart-on-the-sleeve, big band-backed love songs, the main characters are likely to find their way back into each other’s arms. What else would you expect from a 1955 American musical?

“It was actually one of the first musicals that tried to incorporate a modern-day issue,” WWCA director Jan Ewen said, noting the trade union versus the company hierarchy subject matter. “At the time they were criticized that it didn’t work very well. In some ways it works and in other ways it doesn’t... (but) this was a pioneering step in that it tried to combine entertainment and good music with something that was happening in the society of the day.”

But of course with multiple love stories and a central hang out at a place called “Hernando’s Hideway,” “where all you see is silhouettes and all you hear is castanets,” it’s not too heavy.

“It’s light, but it’s just a real positive, upbeat production, and I knew people would enjoy it,” Ewen said.

Ewen was introduced to the play when she played one of the women from the factory back in the 1980s and what has stuck with her throughout is the show’s music.

“The Pajama Game” score written by the duo of Alder and Ross (the same guys who did the tunes for “Damn Yankees”), which has been a major component of the play’s success, is likely to back some memories, Ewen said, either from the 1950s-era Doris Day major motion picture, or perhaps the 2006 Broadway revival starring Harry Connick Jr.

In that same spirit of remembrance, WWCA will be dedicating the production to the memory of the beloved local theater juggernaut, actor Harry Helm, who passed away Feb. 27 at the age of 87.

“He was such a sweet heart and so gentle and so dedicated to his craft,” Ewen said. “It was very interesting and inspiring to see someone who had spent his whole life in the theater and how important it was to him. And what was important about it, not the ego part of it, but just the love of the craft.”

There’s definitely a lot of love in this “Pajama Game.”

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