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The Pajama Game

Music & Lyrics: Richard Adler & Jerry Ross

Book: George Abbott & Richard Bissell

A strike is imminent in a pajama factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: The Union is seeking a wage raise of seven and a half cents an hour. Hines, the factory manager, keeps the girls on their toes by timing their production with a stopwatch and the girls respond by working at white heat in a race with the clock ("Hurry Up, Hurry Up, Hurry Up"). When Babe Williams, head of the Union grievance committee, comes to the plant's new superintendent, Sid Sorokin, to state the Union's case she finds herself attracted to him, even though she realizes he is the enemy camp. Sid also finds Babe highly appealing. When he tries to make a date with her, she rejects him, reminding him that he is the superintendent of the plant and she of the Grievance Comittee. When she leaves the office Sid flips on his dictaphone and confides to it his feelings about Babe ("Hey, There").

At a picnic for the factory workers Sid encounters Babe and complains that he, too, has a grievance: He has been trying to be a good fellow to a girl who is indifferent. Babe lightly explains that, perhaps, the girl is hard-boiled, that perhaps if he came to know her he would not care for her at all. But Sid remains unconvinced by her suppositions. The first opportunity he finds, he seizes Babe and kisses her ardently. Babe, caught unawares, offers little resistance. All around them, the picnic goes into high gear, with everyone in high spirits ("Once a Year Day").

A few days later, Sid visits Babe at her home. When he once again tries to kiss her she pushes him away. The more he tries to make some advances, the more she insists upon indulging in small talk to deflect him. Finally, she explains that what is really separating them is "seven and a half cents". She insists she intends to fight as hard as she can for the Union, regardless of how she feels about Sid personally. In the hallway of the Union headquarters word is being circulated that the boss, Hasler, is asking to see the Union officials; the feeling grows that the Union is about to score a victory. As far as Sid and Babe are concerned, their main interest is now each other -- as they take pains to explain when the Union members leave them to themselves ("There Once Was a Man"). Back in the shop, the Union members are glum: Hasler has given them a runaround. In defiance, the Union leaders order the workers to return to their jobs, but to "slow down" on their operations. Sid belligerently demands from the help an "honest day's work" and threatens to fire anybody who is a slacker. This so outrages Babe that she kicks her foot into the machinery and causes a general breakdown. Without a second thought, Sid fires her; Babe storms angrily from the factory.

The second act opens in Eagle Hall, where the Union is conducting a meeting. But first there is a bit of entertainment for the members, including an engaging little routine entitled "Steam Heat" performed by Gladys and two other union members, all dressed in tight-fitting men's black suits and derby hats.

Meanwhile, Sid tries in vain to contact Babe in order to square himself with her. He finally corners her at her home, where he begs her to understand and sympathize with his position. But Babe turns a deaf ear, rushes away from him and bursts into tears in the privacy of her bedroom. This turn in his personal affairs makes Sid determined to find some way to effect peace between management and labour. He suspects that the key to this problem is the one that opens the actual lock with which the company ledgers are kept securely sealed. In an effort to get that key from Gladys, the book-keeper, he invites her to a hot spot, Hernando's Hideaway ("Hernando's Hideaway"). She accepts eagerly, enjoys several drinks with him and then, being inebriated, all too willingly turns over the key to Sid. As he had suspected, the ledgers reveal that Hasler had long been adding the seven and a half cents raise demanded by the workers to the factory cost of his product. Thus caught red-handed, Hasler is compelled to yield to the Union's demands.

At the Union headquarters the members are figuring out that though seven and a half cents an hour raise is not much, over a period of years it can amount to a great deal ("Seven and a Half Cents"). Just then Sid arrives with the joyous news that the Union has won out. A celebration erupts in which even Hasler joins. Sid and Babe are particularly jubilant, for the obstacle to their romance has been removed. They, too, celebrate -- at Hernando's Hideaway.

The Pajama Game was mainly the work of fresh, untried talent. The composer/lyricists -- Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, whose collaboration involved both the music and the lyrics -- here wrote their first complete musical comedy score. Also new to the Broadway stage were the producers, the choreographer and Carol Haney, one of the stars. But these young people had the courage of their inexperience -- for they were tackling a subject long regarded as taboo for the popular musical stage: labour problems involving factory workers, with a strike as a pivot of the plot; a musical comedy without fancy costumes and with comparatively little sex appeal. Yet, with the cards apparently stacked against it, The Pajama Game went on to become one of the greatest successes in the history of the Broadway theatre: it was the eighth musical to achieve a run in excess of a thousand performances. After that it was made into a highly successful motion picture starring Doris Day, but otherwise utilizing most of the members of the original stage cast.

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This document was originally published in The Complete Book of Light Opera. Mark Lubbock. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. pp. 914-6.

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