For seven years, Richey Suncoast Theatre has tried to obtain performance rights for the Tony Award-winning musical The Pajama Game.
"But it's either already promised to someone else (in the area), or there's a national tour, or something," making it unavailable to the theater, said Marie Skelton, executive director of the venue, who takes the lead in choosing plays and musicals every season.
So when the licensing firm for this year's planned season opener, Merrily We Roll Along, called the theater to say the musical was no longer available, Skelton pounced: Would you give us performance rights for The Pajama Game instead?
Whether it was guilt, compassion or unexpected availability of the show, Music Theatre International said 'yes,' and RST will finally be doing The Pajama Game on Thursday and weekends through Sept. 28.
"We are all just so excited about it," said Skelton, who has earned at least seven directing awards at RST and is co-directing and co-choreographing the show with Linda Hougland, herself a winner of multiple awards for choreography.
They've chosen an all-star cast for the production, including Bob Marcela, who just added two more Charlie Awards (lead actor in Spamalot and Camelot) to his already full shelf of statues; Bill Schommer (Drimmond in There Goes the Bride, Handyman in My Wild Desires), who has at least four; and Steve Ailing, who has won not only for acting (Honk!), but also for his musical direction.
Set in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory in 1954, The Pajama Game is the story of assembly line workers pushing for a seven-and-a-half-cent-an-hour raise against a seemingly intransigent manager, the hard-nosed Myron Hasler (Schommer). On one side is Babe Williams (Elizabeth Phillips) as the leader of the union grievance committee; on the other is Sid Sorokin (Rich Krasowski), the factory superintendent, who, as luck would have it, is crazy about Babe.
Also in the fray is Vernon Hines (Ailing), who is madly in love with Hasler's pretty, flirtatious secretary Gladys (Kristen Bram Broughton) but also insanely jealous of anyone who looks at her; Prez (Marcela), who heads the union, chases women but is married; Mae (Heather Clark, Charlie Award for The Amorous Ambassador), who takes Prez up on his advances; Mabel (Tracie Callahan, Charlie Award for Agnes Gooch in Mame), the mother hen of the workers; members of the grievance committee; and members of factory management.
The plot seems especially timely today, with low-wage fast-food workers threatening strike and employees of the northeast grocery chain Market Basket actually winning a walk-out over threats to their livelihoods.
The show has some of musicians Richard Adler's and Jerry Ross' biggest hits: Hey There (You with the Stars in Your Eyes), Hernando's Hideaway, Steam Heat, and I'm Not At All in Love, plus plenty more. It was made into a movie in 1957 starring Doris Day as Babe and John Raitt as Sid.