Sketchbook: Sleep Tight

Martin Pakledinaz is going through a 50s period. The costume designer's recent shows have included Off-Broadway's Trip to Bountiful, Damn Yankees at Arena Stage, and now, the Broadway revival of The Pajama Game, which opened at the America Airlines Theatre in February. For this latest project, Pakledinaz tried to keep it simple. “It's really just sweet, gentle Americana,” he explains. “Too much design would weigh it down. We just tried individuality and a certain gentle approach.”

To find inspiration, the designer turned to the same period catalogs — from Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Spiegel — that he'd used on the other productions. “I was actually concerned that I not reuse ideas that I'd already been using,” he explains. “A lot of it was palette and pattern, just using little patterns on patterns and stuff like that, which made it look more middle class. A lot of 50s clothes, especially on the women, are more housewife-y than you want them to be, so I went with cleaner silhouettes on the women. And even on the men, I was trying to find a certain boldness or clarity.”

The gentle mood changes dramatically in two parts of the show: Hernando's Hideaway, where Pakledinaz was able to darken the palette for the first time (“I just wanted those girls to look sexy,” he says), and then, the pajama fashion show at the end, where he took some liberties. “I bridged it out into different kinds of nightwear, just to make it a little more fun for the audience,” he says. “In the original production, I think they actually did have everyone in pajamas, but here, we have cute little baby dolls and Capri paints with an oversized 50s top. It's all in the same material, but we just took it to the extreme of the fact that everyone's having a great time because they've settled the strike, and they just went a little wild at their sewing machines.”

The influx of 50s musicals of late-from All Shook Up to Jersey Boys and beyond-made Pakledinaz conscious of trying to bring something new to the table. “It was actually very cool for my mind, because I really had to study it,” he says. “It's not really my favorite period, but this was great, and now I have all these catalogs that I probably won't use for another 40 years!”

Pakledinaz was assisted by Martin Lopez, Courtney McClain, and Jessica Lustig. Costumes were built by Barbara Matera Ltd., Eric Winterling Inc., Parelli Costumes, Paul Chang, Studio Rouge, Marc Happel, and Sarah Timberlake.