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Photograph by David Allen
MEMO MAN: Sid (David Sattler) dictates some musical notes in Foothill's production of 'The Pajama Game.'

Workers' Musical

Wage demands drive emotions on Foothill's 'Pajama Game'

By Marianne Messina

THE MOST EXCITING thing about Pajama Game, Foothill Music Theatre's summer musical, is the idea of dictating a cautionary memo to yourself so you won't get caught with "stars in your eyes." In the song "Hey There" (by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross), lead character Sid Sorokin (David Sattler) sings to and harmonizes with his memo machine—Don't fall for Babe Williams (Sarah Aili). He is the superintendent at Sleep-Tite pajama factory, and she is the union organizer determined to squeeze a 7-1/2-cent hourly raise out of tight Sleep-Tite's president, Myron Hasler, pronounced "hassler" (Todd Wright). Later, Babe reprises the song with her own self-advice. She sings from her Formica-topped kitchen table (it's 1954 after all), and Sid counters her from outside her house (they've had a row). This catchy and stimulating number awakens the show from somnolence on more than one occasion.

It's hard to understand how the Pajama Game won prizes (even in 1955) and launched a thousand careers—Bob Fosse, Shirley MacLaine—but maybe it has to do with the leggy pajama outfits and suggestions of "going to bed" that grin from under the surface dialogue. Reprises of the catchiest numbers serve this musical well, and Foothill Music Theatre gives the show its best shot with a pair of good singers in the lead roles. More stunning than the 1957 film version's Doris Day, Aili, in blonde '50s-neat curls, sings with clarity (if not range), and Sattler (somewhat resembling the film's John Raitt) can turn on the velvet sweetness. Together the lead singers render a fine love duet, "I Love You More."

Joe Ragey's set design aids ensemble numbers with catwalks, colorful backlighting and a stylized foreground of lighted buttons, not to mention the backward Sleep-Tite sign (as seen from inside). The sign suggests the workers' status as nonentities in a Sleep-Tite machine that doesn't get much sleep. A curtained stage set piece allows performers to burst through like a vaudeville act in "Steam Heat," the rhythmical, onomatopoeic show tune that stuck to songwriter Richard Adler like an unwelcome guest. This number is visually impressive, with choreographer Katie O'Bryon's hopping moves accented in red spats. Costume designer Janis Bergmann completed the delightful red-and-black coattail costumes with black bowlers, red suspenders and red-and-black bustier on Mae (Kateri McRae).

Solid character acting also uplifts the show. Linda Piccone is a veritable Ann B. Davis (Alice in The Brady Bunch) as Sid's steady secretary Mabel, and Karen DeHart really relieves this comedy as Hasler's besotted secretary Gladys in the "Hernando's Hideaway" number. As Gladys escorts Sid to the Hideaway, where anonymity is the rule, and Sid plies and seduces her in a tango designed to obtain her cherished key to Hasler's ledger, DeHart gives the show's winning performance, starting with her steamy "I think my eyes just fogged up" and ending with Gladys dead drunk on the Hideaway couch. With the double-whammy of upward productivity and flat salaries suggested by "Seven-and-a-Half Cents" and "Racing With the Clock," this musical could feel satirically current. But somehow it doesn't. 

  THE PAJAMA GAME, a Foothill Music Theatre presentation, plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Aug. 17 at Smithwick Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. Tickets are $10–$26. (650.949.7360)

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