A CurtainUp Review
On the Town Dances From Pittsfield to the Big Apple
By Elyse Sommer
Curtainup review of the production that seeded this transfer
Since Curtainup's launch in 1996 I've seen On the Town three times a big, splashy Broadway revival in ( 1998, an Encores! production in 2008 which was also directed by John Rando and featured the terrific Tony Yazbeck. Last and by no means least, was the production that launched Barrington Stage's summer 2013 season that's now on Broadway. Thanks to this superb regional theater company's way with musicals from the genre's golden era Pittsfield, Massachussetts like New York, has indeed become a helluva town for starting off the summer theater season with a wonderfully performed and staged musical.
Even before moving to its handsome 500-seat venue in Pittsfield, this little engine-that could company created buzz among Big Apple theater enthusiasts — with top notch oldies like Cabaret and the brand new musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The latter had sturdy enough theatrical legs to help them buy their Pittsfield home (a transfer to Off-Broadway and the Broadway, plus continuing productions throughout the world).
Since I wasn't in Pittsfield for On the Town's official opening, my Berkshire colleague Gloria Miller did the review honors. When I saw the show a week later I found it to be every bit as enjoyable and exciting as she declared it to be.
So what's different about the show now on the Great White Way?
Happily, all the elements that brought shoutouts from both Gloria and me, are in place — but bigger and more Broadway-ish. John Rando is still at the helm and it's been all aboard for most of the key cast members. I'm therefore re-posting the Barrington Stage review after the current production notes and song list ( click here to jump right to it ) and comment here on the changes.
Of course, that "bigger, more Broadway-ish" means it's not as intimate an experience as seeing it in Pittsfield was. But for the show to work its charms in the huge Lyric Theater (1900 seats with 2 balconies, instead of 500 with just 1!) the staging had to be adjusted.
And so, scenic designer Beowulf Boritt has donned a second hat as projection designer adding a series of mirrored panels and projections evoking stylized images of New York. Jason Lyons' lighting further ratchets up the big show razzle dazzle, as do Jess Goldstein's colorful 1940s costumes. Best of all, these enrichments leave the big stage uncluttered to accommodate Joshua Bergasse's ravishing, Jerome Robbins' inspired yet original choreography.
Tony Yazbeck as the innocent abroad Gabey sings and dances better than ever. But his fellow hungry for fun and romance on a brief leave also beautifully reprise their roles as do all the other original cast members. The comic shtick that permeates the show is not just in place, but in show-stopping high gear with the addition of Jackie Hoffman on board to turn three small roles into scene stealing show stoppers. And New York City Ballet principal ballerina Megan Fairchild who now plays the elusive Miss Turnstiles is perfection in her solos and ballets.
As the designers have augmented the visuals, and the performers heightened their performances to reach even those in the rear of that enormous orchestra, so the 12-piece Barrington Stage orchestra has grown to a satisfying 28 and benefits from Kai Harada's sound design.
Bernstein's score has aged like a fine old wine and and director John Rando and Joshua Bergasse have enhanced its flavor by putting it into a new bottle. For a night on the town, with unforgettable numbers like the moving "Lonely Town" with its dreamy dancing you can't beat this On the Town for old fashioned fun, glorious music and breathtaking dancing.
Barrington Stage Review
The show opens with "The Star Spangled Banner" as it did in December 1944 when the country was at war. Three young sailors arrive for their twenty-four hour shore leave and the urgency of their need to cram as much living as possible into one day hints at the fragility of human existence and even though the war is never spoken about, the audience senses their compelling desire to seize the day!
The three men, Ozzie (Clyde Alves), Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Gabey (Tony Yazbeck) leap off that ship into the rousing "New York, New York," armed with an outdated guidebook and expectation that the city can be done in a day, girls included. Ah! The energy of youth.
And it's not just the men whose animated antics and comedic talents rivet our attention. The three girls who will become the requisite love interests are not shy about their desires either. Hildy (Alysha Umphress, Claire (Elizabeth Stanley) and Ivy (Deanna Doyle) complement their men in acting and dancing ability. In a time where every sexually desirable male is deployed in the service of his country, the women are obviously emotionally and sexually starved. In this show there is no dearth of blatant male chest beating and female sexual dynamism. Comden and Green's book tells it like it is.
There can be no doubt what's on the minds of these women with sizzling numbers such as "Come Up To My Place" and "I Can Cook Too," both delivered by Umphress' Hildy with a raunchy dazzle that leaves very little to the imagination,and Johnson's Chip is the perfect foil.
Stanley's Claire and Alves' Ozzie whoop it up in the hilarious "Carried Away" and the "Caveman Dance" intimating a very energetic romp will follow outside the audience's purview. This predictable but amusing fling is punctuated by beautifully choreographed ballet, burlesque bump-and- grind, and fluid chorus line art in an orgy of flashing 40's costumes, (Jennifer Caprio) and lush musical accompaniment (Conductor-Darren R. Cohen) rounded out by imaginative but simple sets (Beowulf Boritt) and equally versatile lighting.(Jason Lyons). The efforts of these artists enhance the vivacious and vibrant ensemble whose talents sparkle amid the classic yet creative production values.
It is of course the two romantic leads whose toned down sexuality and endearing romanticism drive the story forward, as Gabey (Yazbeck) searches for the elusive Ivy Smith, "Miss Turnstile" (Doyle) and, as in all well-plotted, love stories actually finds her in - Carnegie Hall. In the thrall of their considerable talents the audience has willingly suspended its disbelief in finding all of these plot machinations plausible.
Yazbeck is reprising the role of Gabey having performed it at City Center Encores! When he sings "Lonely Town" his sensitive everyman demeanor underscores the actual plight of these young boys so far from their homes and human connections as they face a very tenuous future.
Doyle's ethereal grace, as the object of his fantasy, has the necessary grit to keep her from becoming a cliché. When they dance together, the magic of their talent and Joshua Bergasse's choreography combine to create heavenly stage imagery of idealized love and optimism. Bergasse is the Emmy Award winning choreographer of Smash and has a long list of shows to his credit.
Director John Rando's considerable skill has united these gifted professionals into a cohesive, energetic and witty celebration of youthful exuberance amidst dark days. The pace and energy of On The Town illuminate his success as a Tony Award winner for Urinetown, The Musical and a host of Broadway credits and accolades.
The melancholy "Some Other Time" heralds the expected end of the fantastical day with the lovers acknowledging the insecurity of their situation as they reluctantly part. But as three new sailors bound from the ship singing a rousing "New York, New York" we are ready for a repeat cycle of irrepressible life.
You won't want to miss this escapade which runs through July 13th.