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ClassicsOnline Home » ADLER, R. / ROSS, J.: Pajama Game (Original Broadway Cast) (1954) / John Murray Anderson's Almanac (excerpts) (1954-1956)
The Pajama Game
Original Broadway Cast 1954
Music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
John Murray Anderson’s Almanac Selections 1954–56
Richard Adler and Jerry Ross only knew each other for five years, from 1950 to 1955. But during that time, they wrote a hit Broadway revue (John Murray Anderson’s Almanac) and two of the most enduring musicals in the modern canon (The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees). Their all-too-brief collaboration yielded songs that are still standards over fifty years later (“Rags to Riches”, “Heart”, “Hey There”) and one has to wonder what they might have accomplished had Ross not died of lung disease at the age of 29.
The two men were both from New York City (Adler, the elder by five years, was born in 1921), but they had very different backgrounds. Whereas Ross was the son of Russian immigrants and spent his childhood as a successful performer in the Yiddish theatre, Adler came from a more culturally patrician upbringing, with his father being the renowned classical pianist Clarence Adler. The one thing the two men had in common was that they both wanted to be songwriters and from that day in 1950 when they met at the Brill Building in New York – the Mecca for tunesmiths in those days – there was no stopping them. Composer Frank Loesser took them under his wing, signed them to his publishing company and helped them through a few rough patches at the beginning.
In 1952, they wrote the score for a mini-musical called Six on a Honeymoon (guess how many were in the cast?) which starred a young woman named Barbara Cook with book, direction and choreography by Herbert Ross. It opened at a Chicago steakhouse/nightclub called The Black Hawk to excellent reviews, but the run was cut short when the Board of Health closed the restaurant down for using horsemeat and passing it off as steak. Bloody, but unbowed, Adler and Ross came up with a pop song called “Rags to Riches”, but their friend, superstar Eddie Fisher, refused to record it. No problem. Mitch Miller, the guru of Columbia Records, passed it on to Tony Bennett, who made it a No. 1 hit.
That’s when Broadway began calling, in the antiquated but still persuasive person of John Murray Anderson. The Newfoundland-born Anderson was 68 and near the end of his life when he commissioned Adler and Ross to write the score for what was to be his swansong, John Murray Anderson’s Almanac. Anderson had made his New York début as writer, director and producer of The Greenwich Village Follies in 1919, going on to work for everyone from Florenz Ziegfeld to the Ringling Brothers Circus. The revue that he hired Adler and Ross to work on had an amazing cast, including Cyril Ritchard, Hermione Gingold, Harry Belafonte and Charlotte Rae, all heard on this recording. But the magpie Anderson could never leave well enough alone and he kept fussing with the show right through to its opening in Manhattan on 10 December 1953, changing the order, reassigning songs and adding numbers by other authors. Despite mixed critical reviews, which praised Gingold and Belafonte but panned Adler and Ross’s songs as ‘routine’, the show managed a decent run of 229 performances. Listening to Belafonte make his own patented kind of magic with “Acorn In The Meadow”, however, it’s hard to see how the tinniest of ears could have failed to appreciate this music.
Adler and Ross didn’t have time to ponder their fate, because veteran director George Abbott tapped them to write the score for his next musical, The Pajama Game. Abbott, who was then already 66, liked working with young talent, but this production would prove extreme even by his standards. Two of the producers, Robert Griffith and Harold Prince, were stage managers who had never produced before. In fact, on opening night, they were the actual stage managers for the show, supervising it in their tuxedos. Abbott’s co-author on the book was a fledgling novelist named Richard Bissell, whose Seven and a Half Cents, the story of labour unrest in an Iowa pajama factory, would provide the basis for the story. Although Jerome Robbins was hovering in the wings as insurance, the choreography was officially credited to Bob Fosse, in his first Broadway staging assignment. And then there were Adler and Ross. Their joy at getting the job wasn’t diluted by later finding out that it had been turned down by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Frank Loesser, Jule Styne, Comden and Green, Harold Rome, Burton Lane and Cole Porter. But the fledgling team not only rose to the occasion, they turned out a score which endures to this day, as the Tony Award winning 2006 Broadway revival proved.
From Eddie Foy Jr’s sassy ‘here’s what the show’s about’ rendition of the title song, through the snappy “Racing With The Clock” number for the workers on the assembly line, The Pajama Game gets off to a sizzling beginning that seldom droops, with Adler and Ross carrying much of the energy. Instead of making every love song a sleepy ballad, Adler and Ross give us the perky “I’m Not At All In Love” and the sizzling “There Once Was A Man”. They also understand beautifully the art of the novelty song, as witnessed by their idiosyncratic “Steam Heat” and the production number “Hernando’s Hideaway”, which actually rode onto the pop charts. But their biggest hit was the straight-ahead ballad “Hey There”, given a new twist by having John Raitt sing it into a Dictaphone, allowing him to share a duet with his own rich baritone voice. One of the biggest successes of 1954, “Hey There” actually had two recordings on the Billboard chart, with Rosemary Clooney’s hitting No. 1, while Sammy Davis Jr’s went to No. 16. The Pajama Game itself was a glorious hit, earning unanimous raves from the New York critics after its 13 May 1954 opening, going on to win three Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and running for 1,063 performances.
The next Adler–Ross musical, Damn Yankees, (again with Griffith, Prince, Abbott and Fosse) would open almost a year to the day after The Pajama Game and prove to be an even bigger hit.
But six months after its opening, Jerry Ross would be dead and what began as one of the most promising of all Broadway partnerships would now become a footnote in the land of might-have-been.
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ADLER, R. / ROSS, J.: Pajama Game (Original Broadw...