When The Pajama Game hit Broadway in 1954, the company advertised the musical with a very suggestive poster: At the top loom the heads of six men, each representing a different character. Their eyes are all trained on a woman -- not just on her face, downcast and shy, but her whole body. The woman is wearing nothing but an oversized shirt. She looks very young, her hands are clasped, and the shirt has been pulled down from her shoulders, suggesting gradual disrobement. This image may have been cute and coquettish in the '50s, but now it's a very unsettling picture.
The Theatre Factory did not revisit this poster, but in its old age, The Pajama Game is still awkward. Set in the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, where seamstresses toil, the all-male management delights in office romance. Bosses and supervisors are constantly inviting their workers to "dates." The company picnic leads to frolicking in the woods. And anonymous coupling is rampant in Hernando's Hideaway, where the lights are dim, everybody tangos, and morals are shed -- because, you know, that's what those wacky Latins do.
But predatory creepiness and ethnic stereotypes aside, The Pajama Game is a joyous night of theater. The plot, and even the characters, are almost superfluous; relish instead the melodious songs, the sugary lyrics and lots of sexy dance numbers. (It's a jumpy, twirly sexiness, choreographed in a time when nice boys and their secretaries fell in love, and married life was a post-curtain afterthought.)
If The Pajama Game is "about" anything, it's the relationship between industrial workers and their selfish overlords; there is talk of unions and strikes, rallies and embezzlement. But let's not kid ourselves: The Pajama Game is a sweeter kind of American Pie, a theatrical patisserie of hungry glances and glazed double-entendres. Even in the '50s, when cinematic couples slept in separate beds, sex sold.
The Theatre Factory's stage is essentially a shoe-box, but the company's resourceful use of rotating scenery is a lesson in smart frugality. (Props, so to speak, to scenic designer Scott P. Calhoon.) Community theatre is rife with bad singers, but the Theatre Factory's performers are all exceptional, bringing Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' songs to happy life. Nobody watches The Pajama Game for masterful acting or character development; as the leads, Rick Fosbrink and Kristiann Mendotiades nail their notes, and where the dialogue fails, the dance-floor chemistry boils. Like a good set of woolen unders, The Pajama Game is warm, comfortable, and a preamble to pleasant dreams.
The Pajama Game continues through July 29. The Theatre Factory, Cavitt Avenue and Third Street, Trafford. 412-373-2881 or www.thetheatrefactory.com