Cory McCloskey has come a long way.
From “The Music Man’s” Man No. 2 in a small town of 3,000 in Pennsylvania to a popular Fox 10 News weatherman in the nation’s fifth largest city, McCloskey has entertained people since he was a child in the 1960s.
Now, the Fox 10 weatherman is taking the stage as the leading man, Sid Sorokin, in the classic musical “The Pajama Game” with the Scottsdale Musical Theater Company from July 11 to July 21 at the Tempe Center for the Arts.
McCloskey’s second stage musical he saw was “The Pajama Game;” the first was “Little Mary Sunshine.” “The Pajama Game” made a big impression on him. He was a young child and the high school theater director brought elementary students to attend dress rehearsals.
“I remember so clearly this particular show,” McCloskey said. “‘Little Mary Sunshine,’ ‘The Pajama Game,’ ‘Damn Yankees’—we were allowed to say ‘damn’—it was a big deal. I could count the years of my elementary school with the shows.”
Staged first in 1953, “The Pajama Game” features a battle between labor and management. Sorokin is a new manager at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory where the workers, led by Babe Williams, are about to go on strike for a 7.5-cent-per-hour raise.
While the two protagonists are on opposite sides of the union battle, the two fall in love.
“I really do enjoy that stretch of musicals,” said McCloskey, referring to the Golden Age musicals of the 1950s and 1960s.
“I like a couple things about them. I like the predictability of the shows. You know they are going to tie a beautiful ribbon on everything at the end. I’m a real history fan, so for me, to do a show like ‘The Pajama Game,’ I love imagining Midwestern America.”
Having grown up in a Pennsylvania small town fueled by two shoe factories and a garment factory, he recognizes the characters as the parents of his friends, the people who slugged it out day after day sewing soles onto shoes.
The role is a challenge because Sorokin is brusquer than most of the roles McCloskey plays and not as instantly likeable.
“He’s a little bit more trouble than perhaps other characters I’ve played,” McCloskey said. “He doesn’t have a smooth time of it. He has a job to do and he cannot fail at being this factory supervisor. He has kind of bluffed his way into the position, so he has to make it work or he’ll be in big trouble. The challenge for me will be trying to make him evolve into someone people can like.”
Climbing the ladder
It was in the Pennsylvania town where McCloskey first saw “The Pajama Game” that he also got his first stage role as a freshman in high school — a bit part in “The Music Man.”
“I’m sure everyone remembers that moving moment in Act 2 where (Man No. 2) vaults to his feet and said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I heard!’” McCloskey said.
As a sophomore, he auditioned again, thinking maybe he’d get a role in the “Hello, Dolly!” chorus. The musical director, who was also the band and choir director, Bob Stoner, had other ideas. He cast McCloskey in one of the leading roles, that of the chief clerk, Cornelius Hacki.
“I was scared to do it,” McCloskey said. “I would never have presumed to audition for it. It was just a thrill of an experience to really be able to knock around the stage in an energetic role with lots of running around and some fun solos.”
He would eventually go on to New York and earn a living as an actor and model in his 20s. He earned his Equity card and continued to perform until he decided to settle down and earn a regular paycheck.
That came in the form of television and weather forecasting. Performances were occasional treats. As a morning show weather reporter, he typically wakes up between 2:30 and 3 in the morning and goes to bed between 7 and 9 p.m. — which makes it difficult to attend rehearsals or perform in shows.
For the last six years, McCloskey has performed as “Scrooge” in the Hale Centre Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol.” When he does “The Pajama Game,” he’ll take enforced naps every day to make sure he gets enough sleep to stay healthy and perform all his jobs at top energy.
“It requires a schedule that a mom would hold a toddler to,” McCloskey said. “There’s a scheduled nap that cannot be missed. Anyone can fight through a day or two of very little sleep, but if it stretches out, you’re not at your best, so I’ve learned how to do it. This will be fun and it’s a rather compressed rehearsal schedule.”
McCloskey has attended shows at Scottsdale Musical Theater, though this will be his first time performing with them. He saw its most recent show, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and said it was fantastic.
“The Pajama Game” is being directed by David Hock, with choreography by Hock and Hillary Conrad, and musical direction by Joni Van Rossum. McCloskey is looking forward to performing with live musicians, rather than recorded ones.
“I love looking down into that pit and seeing a director who is looking right up to you, eyebrows kind of raised, waiting for you to make your decision,” McCloskey said.
“Maybe there’s a longer pause if you’ve dropped a line and are trying to get back on track. That thrills me. I love to sing with an orchestra. You can’t beat it.”
The cast is filled with people with whom he is excited to work. He had high praise for the actress playing Babe, Elizabeth Blair, saying she is a lot like the character she plays—no-nonsense and a triple-threat who can act, sing and dance.
“I would like to be her friend,” McCloskey said. “She could pop me into next week if required. I’ve watched her in a couple shows and I’m excited about playing opposite her.”
McCloskey is thrilled that Hock asked him to be a part of the show and hopes it won’t be his last there. He also hopes Fox viewers will get a kick out of seeing him perform in a musical.
“It will be a fun night for those who know me already,” McCloskey said. “I think they’ll enjoy it. I’m likely to break out in song on our show, we don’t have any rules. But they might not know this about me. They can see what else I do and if its fun and if I’m any good at it. It will be worthy of the ticket for sure.”
“The Pajama Game”
Scottsdale Musical Theater Company performing at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, scottsdalemusicaltheater.com, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays July 11 to July 21, $42-$58. Student and senior discounts available.