The Pajama Game, the 1950s musical with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, is a love story, a labor dispute set in the golden age of American manufacturing, and an excuse for a bunch of big dance numbers.
In the production that opened last night at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Billie Wildrick plays Babe, the head of the factory's grievance committee, who butts heads with Sid, the new superintendent of the factory. From the moment Sid stumbles out during "I'm Not at All in Love," the song Babe sings to convince her coworkers she's not romantically interested in him, their chemistry is palpable.
She sings with bright, winning clarity and he has a deep, buttery baritone. But last night, their love story was upstaged by an impressive array of supporting performances. Shaunyce Omar throws so much shade and hilariousness into her portrayal of the secretary Mabel that you can't help but focus on her every time she's onstage. Her duet with Greg McCormick Allen, who plays the factory's timekeeper (and is consumed with jealousy about another secretary), got big laughs. Some of the laugh lines appeared to be ad-libbed, like when Omar danced into him, backwards, saying, "I'm gonna back it up, I got it, I got it, here it is."
But the best out-of-nowhere comedy last night came from Taryn Darr, a longtime 5th Avenue veteran who has a star turn in the minor role of a factory worker named Mae. Mae has the hots for Prez, played by Kyle Carter, who's on the left in the photo below. He holds his own with her coo-coo-kachoo, impossible-to-describe spastic presence, and he wrings laughs out of the song "Her Is," too, but her performance is unforgettable.
It's not just Darr's spastic acting—she also dances phenomenally.
The show drags in places because of Bob Richard's choreography, which strikes me as beneath this cast's abilities—lots of jumping around and gesturing and little else. Numbers like "Once-a-Year Day," which ought to be visually wowing, don't have that punch of invigoration that good choreography would provide. Allen's tap number in act two also feels like a missed opportunity.
But director Bill Berry builds enough visual delight into the staging that it's still a pleasure to watch the story unfold. When Babe, sitting in her kitchen, sings, "One of these days I'll paint the kitchen," the throwaway piece of small talk is made funny by the lack of walls at all in this particular kitchen. And the way an office door at the factory rises out of and back into the floor of the stage reminded me of Berry's brilliant staging of Little Shop of Horrors a few years back, with its subterranean depths and smooth cleverness.