Love and labor collide in 'The Pajama Game' at Williamsport High School
Labor problems arise in a pajama factory where workers demand a seven-and-a-half cent raise. Love blooms between the new factory superintendent and the head of the grievance committee.
Whether the parties can sing and dance their way to resolution will be revealed to audiences who see “The Pajama Game” during its run from Friday, April 5 through Saturday, April 13, at Williamsport High School.
Presented by the school’s music and drama departments, “The Pajama Game” might be familiar to some who have seen the 1957 musical film starring actress and singer Doris Day. Both the film and the play were based on the 1953 novel “7 ½ Cents” by Richard Bissell.
Michelle Rafter, who is co-directing the Williamsport High School production with Dan Henderson, said she saw the film many years ago, but this is her first time working with it onstage.
“I’m really excited,” she said.
The Broadway production of the show opened in 1954 and won a Tony Award for Best Musical. It was revived in 1973 and again in 2006, when it won a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.
Maureen Rafter, 16, of Williamsport, stars as Babe in the show, the lead role that was portrayed in the film by Doris Day.
“Babe is more, I guess you could say, a steady, stern character. She doesn’t let herself show much emotion. She is very practical and wise,” Maureen said. “When she meets her new supervisor, Sid, she changes a bit and lets her guard down.”
The high school junior said she has done a lot of theater. This show has allowed her to work on character development. She took into consideration not only her character, but also the time and setting in which she lived — Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s.
“For the 1950s, Babe is more defiant and strong-willed than many women. At the time, not many women were as outspoken and had as strong a personality as her,” she said. “I really admire her strong convictions and, I guess, her power over the administration.”
Maureen described the music of the show as “standard of the time period.”
“It has catchy tunes, upbeat music,” she said. “It’s not as well-known as some musical theater, but it still has the power to have you leave the show singing it. The audience will enjoy it a lot.”
The cast of roughly 20 students works with a set that mostly depicts a factory.
“There is a really cool (vintage) sewing machine, ironing boards. It’s very cool and ‘antique-y,’ and there is a big outdoor picnic scene as well,” she said.
Jack Gustafson, 17, of Hagerstown, portrays the new superintendent, Sid. The Williamsport High School junior said he participated in some plays in middle school. “The Pajama Game” will be his third high-school production.
“Doing theater is a very exciting way to meet a lot of new people. It’s introduced me to a different crowd and helped me open up a lot more,” he said. “It’s made me a lot more social.”
Jack enjoys being in the spotlight.
“Having everybody’s eyes on you makes you feel important, like you are special,” he said.
More importantly, he said, he expanded his thinking about historical and societal issues through the struggles of the characters in the show.
“I mean, seven and half cents. I’ve never had the kind of concern. What is a half cent?” he said. “But I realized it can mean a lot to some people. And in that time period, wages were a lot lower than nowadays. I learned that it meant enough for people to go on strike.”
He also noted a change in views and treatment of women since the 1950s.
“Women in this show were not as respected as the men. I kind of learned that,” Jack said. “It’s a big difference from now.”
He predicts that audiences will leave the show “with a joyful vibe.”
“There is a very, very happy ending. The songs will definitely be stuck in their heads. Almost all the songs are ‘stuck-in-the-head-worthy,’” he said. “They will go home very satisfied.”
Top photo: Rachel Mease, left, plays Gladys and Jack Gustafson plays Sid in Williamsport High School’s upcoming production of the musical “The Pajama Game.” (Photo by Colleen McGrath)