The Pajama Game is a musical based on the novel 7½ Cents by Richard Bissell. It features a score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The story deals with labor troubles in a pajama factory, where worker demands for a seven-and-a-half cents raise are going unheeded. In the midst of this ordeal, love blossoms between Babe, the grievance committee head, and Sid, the new factory superintendent.
The original Broadway production opened on May 13, 1954, and ran for 1,063 performances, closing on November 24, 1956. It was directed by George Abbott and Jerome Robbins and featured choreography by Bob Fosse. The original cast included John Raitt, Janis Paige, Eddie Foy, Jr., Carol Haney, and Stanley Prager. The production won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Musical—Carol Haney and Best Choreographer—Bob Fosse.
This production is noted for starting the career of Shirley MacLaine. A relative unknown at the time, she was selected to understudy Carol Haney's role. MacLaine filled the role for several months, as Haney was out of commission with a broken ankle. Director/producer Hal B. Wallis was an audience member at one of MacLaine's performances, and signed her as a contract player for Paramount Pictures.
Turning 7 ½ Cents from a Book to a Musical
Viewed from the distance of 50-plus years, 7 ½ Cents is a quaint work, but hardly a docile one. Sleep-Tite, Bissell's stand-in for Glover Co., is a bustling but stressed survivor of the first big wave of American industrialism, a circa-1910 pajama factory whose steam pipes, button sewers, and felling machines (whatever they are) are forever breaking down. Foreign competition is unknown, but bigger American pajama factories are constantly cutting costs and making things tougher for midlevel shops like Sleep-Tite. The lessons of Frederick W. Taylor's The Principles of Scientific Management are heeded albeit casually, and the overwhelmingly blue-collar workforce is kept just prosperous enough, on about $1.35 an hour, to keep turnover down. It's a union shop, and management and labor constantly growl at each other. Management sees every union organizer as a potential Communist–this was, remember, the height of McCarthyism.
Producers Frederick Brisson, Robert Griffith, and Harold Prince liked to take chances, and they saw this gloomy proletarian milieu as an unconventional setting for a musical comedy. They invited Bissell out East to turn 7 1/2 Cents into a musical, partnering him with far more experienced hands–George Abbott's–to write its book.
Comparing 7 1/2 Cents with The Pajama Game, one is struck by Bissell's faithfulness to his own source material. Plant superintendent Sid Sorokin and his love interest, sleeve-setter Babe Williams, are very much the same couple in both versions, though younger in the book: He's 28 and she's 20. (As originally played on Broadway by John Raitt and Janis Paige, they were roughly a decade older.) Their management-labor conflict is identical, and Babe's directness and sassiness startled placid mid-century readers: At one point in the novel, during the equivalent of a second-act argument, she intones, “I suppose that you think you own me now, just because we Did It a few times.” Such frankness–and the unapologetic attitude toward premarital sex, a novelty in a 1950s musical– surely contributed to The Pajama Game's popularity.
Sid's secretary, Mabel, also occupies identical positions in novel and musical, though the 7 1/2 Cents Mabel is more comically preoccupied with who's sick, who's dead, and who's interested in whom. Hines, the time-study man played so memorably by Eddie Foy Jr. in the original production, is also in 7 1/2 Cents, but is a relatively minor character–and Gladys, his love interest, was fashioned out of whole cloth for the stage, to make a star out of Carol Haney (and understudy Shirley MacLaine). Old Man Hasler, Sid's disagreeable boss, is a much larger presence in the novel, a disciple of conservative radio broadcaster Fulton Lewis (sort of the Bill O'Reilly of his day) and an old-time factory man who blames virtually all his troubles on the New Deal. 7 1/2 Cents also exhibits more class consciousness than The Pajama Game: At one point, Sid, on the rebound from Babe, is seduced by socialite Celeste Watson, a stageworthy plot turn Bissell and Abbott nevertheless omitted.
The film version was released by Warner Bros. in 1957 and featured the original stage cast except for Janis Paige, who was replaced by Doris Day.
Broadway revival, 1973
A Broadway revival opened on December 9, 1973, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, but it closed on February 3, 1974, after just 65 performances. Directed by one of the two directors of the original production in 1954, George Abbott, with choreography by Zoya Leporska. The cast included Hal Linden, Barbara McNair, and Cab Calloway as Hines.
The Roundabout Theatre Company revival, produced by special arrangement with Jeffrey Richards, James Fuld, Jr. and Scott Landis, opened on February 23, 2006, and closed on June 17, 2006, after 129 performances (and 41 previews). Kathleen Marshall was choreographer and director, with a cast starring Harry Connick, Jr., making his Broadway acting debut as Sid, Kelli O'Hara as Babe, and Michael McKean as Hines. The revival included three added songs, by Richard Adler. The original book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell was revised by Peter Ackerman (screenwriter Ice Age). The production won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Choreography—Kathleen Marshall.