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The Pajama Guy

Still a force to be reckoned with, composer/lyricist Richard Adler talks about what's happening (and what may be happening) with The Pajama Game.

By New York City

Richard Adler, Rebecca Luker, and Danny Burstein at theopening performance of The Pajama Game at Wagner College
Richard Adler, Rebecca Luker, and Danny Burstein at the
opening performance of The Pajama Game at Wagner College
Just because a musical has been incredibly successful for nearly 50 years and has presumably earned its composer truckloads of money doesn't mean the show can't still be improved. This, at least, is the attitude of Richard Adler, co-composer/lyricist with Jerry Ross of The Pajama Game (1954) and Damn Yankess (1955), two shows which have been wildly popular on the professional, stock, and amateur theater circuits ever since their Broadway debuts.

The Adler/Ross partnership was unusual in that both men wrote music and lyrics, rather than divvying up those duties. Sadly, whatever monster hit shows they might have written beyond the Big Two noted above were lost to the ages when Ross died very, very young in 1955; Adler relates that, "at the suggestion of my old friend Cole Porter," he never attempted to replace Ross with another partner.

"About three or for years ago," Adler--who has homes in Southampton and also in Manhattan, "about 100 yards from the Metropolitan Museum of Art"--wrote a new song for The Pajama Game. It's a ballad titled "If You Win, You Lose" and it is now included in rental materials for the show. So, will the song be heard in the upcoming Encores! production of Pajama Game? "Of course," replies Adler. "It's part of the score now. Everywhere the show is performed, that song has to be done. It replaces something I never liked, the reprise of 'Hey There.' In those days, a reprise was a way of pushing a song into popularity. 'If You Win, You Lose' is a different song that has the same message as the 'Hey There' reprise." Sharp-eared listeners will note that two lines of lyrics in the new number were taken almost verbatim from the old one: "Though you're acting cold to him / Your poor heart is sold to him."

Adler posing with the cast after the show:Sally Bowman is to his immediate leftand BJ High, who plays Sid Sorokin, is to his right(Photo: Michael Portantiere)
Adler posing with the cast after the show:
Sally Bowman is to his immediate left
and BJ High, who plays Sid Sorokin, is to his right
(Photo: Michael Portantiere)
"There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of performances of Pajama Game and Damn Yankees all over the world," says Adler. He explains that he took a special interest in the current production of the show at Wagner College on Staten Island "because, a few years ago, someone from there invited me to come when they were doing Damn Yankees. A car picked me up and took me to the school, and I not only saw the show but was also given a tour of the entire campus and the surrounding area, which is beautiful. When they started rehearsing Pajama Game, their director--Christopher Catt--got a hold of me and asked if I would hear some of the people in the show. I said yes, and they come over to my studio and performed for me. I was particularly impressed with a young lady named Sally Bowman, who's playing Babe. She's just a kid, 21 years old, but she sings beautifully. I worked with her on 'If You Win, You Lose.'"

Adler hopes for a Broadway revival of the show next year starring Rebecca Luker, who accompanied Mr. A. to the opening performance of the Wagner production on April 3. In addressing the audience prior to the performance, Adler extolled Luker--most recently seen and heard on Broadway as Marian the Librarian in The Music Man--as perfect for Babe Williams, the role originally played in The Pajama Game on Broadway by Janis Paige and in the film version by Doris Day. Prior to that, Encores! will present the show at City Center, May 2-6, with Karen Ziemba as Babe.

And here comes the kicker, folks: Adler insists that a "totally revised" version of his cult flop musical Kwamina (1961), based on a production in Columbus, Ohio a couple of years ago, will be seen in New York and in London in the near future. How amazing would that be?!


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