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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
On the Town

What a day,
Fortune smiled and came my way,
Bringing love I never thought I'd see,
I'm so lucky to be me.

On The Town
Brian Shepard and Jennifer Cody
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
Flash! If you are looking for the best musical comedy around, you might check out On the Town at the Paper Mill Playhouse. For the sheer number of belly laughs and for simply having a helluva good time, you can't beat the jovial and rambunctious carrying on by the three sailors on a 24-hour shore leave.

Although the 1944 musical is primarily noted for the dancing, as originally conceived by Jerome Robbins and inspired by his" Fancy Free" ballet to a score by Leonard Bernstein, On the Town owes almost as much to the wacky book and wonderful lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. For a number of reasons, two Broadway revivals, one in 1972 and another in 1998, failed to win over audiences and critics. However, this production, under the direction of Bill Berry with choreography by Patti Colombo, gets it all right.

A warm navy salute goes to Berry, the Associate Producing Artistic Director and Casting Director of the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle who has crossed the country to bring a fresh and even heart-warming approach to this classic musical. An uplifting as well as uproarious ode to New York City during World War II, On The Town allows us to feel the loneliness of the servicemen who have so little time in which to forget their reality.

Because so many of the songs segue into a dance, we can only applaud the inventive rarely-pausing-for breath choreography that serves as the pulse for the 17 scenes. Visually the show is stunning to look at thanks to the artistry of Walt Spangler whose settings look like a million bucks and include (evidently without worrying too much about the budget) The Brooklyn Navy Yard, Central Park, The Museum of Natural History, Times Square and Coney Island. The period-perfect costumes by David C. Woolard are equally dazzling.

The plot, in which three uniformed buddies Gabey (Tyler Hanes), Ozzie (Jeffrey Schecter) and Chip (Brian Shepard) go on a city-wide search for poster pin-up Miss Turnstiles a.k.a. Ivy Smith (Yvette Tucker), isn't much more than an excuse for some athletic romping and amiable romancing. But what a treat of romping and romancing it is. Perfectly complimenting and contrasting each other, Hanes, Schecter and Shepard deliver the goods as fine singers and dancers. The good-looking Hanes, in particular, establishes his astonishing versatility not only with his rigorously danced "Lucky To Be Me," but also in his beautiful singing of "Lonely Town," the show's most wistful ballad.

In support are performances that empower the show with frequent bursts of high and low comedy. Jennifer Cody is a belting 4-foot 11-inch bundle of dynamite ("Come Up to My Place") as Hildy, the sexually aggressive cab-driver who manhandles (or is it womanhandles?) Shepard, who is super as the not-so-easily seduced Chip. Schecter, who most recently originated the role of Mike Costa in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, also gets to be an object of uncontrolled passion as slinky blonde Claire (Kelly Sullivan), an archeologist, gets "Carried Away" when sees him as a direct link to the Neanderthal men on display. And wouldn't you know that they come to life for an outrageously primitive dance in the Museum of Natural History.

Broad and even suggestive comedy plays a huge role in this show. Harriet Harris squeezes all the intoxicating spirits she can from that bottle of Jack Daniels in her pocket, as Ivy's voice and dancing coach Madame Dilly. Wonderful comic support is also offered by Bill Nolte, as Judge Pitkin, as Claire's clueless fiancé and Tari Kelly as Hildy's roommate with a runny nose.

What a joy it is to hear again all the songs (too many were excised from the 1949 film starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly) written by Bernstein for the Broadway show and hear it played by the 17 musicians in the pit. This is the most rewarding and entertaining musical the Paper Mill has produced in a long time and should not be missed by anyone either in love or on 24-hour shore leave.

On The Town
  Music by Leonard Bernstein
  Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (based on an idea by Jerome Robbins)

Principal Cast: Jennifer Cody (Hildy), Tyler Hanes (Gabey, Harriet Harris (Madame Dilly), Tari Kelly (Lucy, Dian Dream/Dolores Dolores), Bill Nolte (Judge Pitkin), Jeffrey Schecter (Ozzie), Brian Shepard (Chip), Kelly Sullivan (Claire DeLoone), Yvette Tucker (Ivy).
  Scenic Design: Walt Spangler
  Costume Design: David C. Woolard
  Lighting Design: Tom Sturge
  Sound Design: Randy Hansen
  Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes including intermission
  Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ
  (973) 376- 4343
  Performances: Wednesday at 7:30 PM, Thursdays at 1:30 PM & 7:30 PM, Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 1:30 PM & 8 PM and Sundays at 1:30 PM & 7 PM.
  Tickets ($25 - $92)
  Opened 11/15/09
  Ends 12/06/09
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/15/09
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • I Fee/ Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet /Workmen
  • New York, New York /Ozzie, Chip, Gabey, and the Citizens of New York
  • Presentation of Miss Turnstiles / Announcer, Ivy Smith, Ensemble
  • Gabey's Comin' / Ozzie, Chip, Gabey
  • Come Up to My Place / Hildy, Chip
  • Carried Away /Claire, Ozzie, Primitive Men
  • Loneiy Town /Gabey, Ensemble
  • Carnegie Hall Pavane / Madame Dilly, Ivy, and Ballet Dancers
  • I Understand/ Pitkin
  • I Can Cook Too /Hildy
  • Lucky To Be Me /Gabey and the Citizens of New York
  • Times Square Ballet /Gabey, Chip, Ozzie, Hildy, Claire, and the Citizens of New York
Act Two
  • So Long, Baby /Diamond Eddie's Girls
  • I Wish / Was Dead /Diana Dream
  • I Wish IWas Dead (Spanish) /Dolores Dolores
  • Ya Got Me /Hildy, Claire, Ozzie, Chip
  • I Understand (Pitkin's Song) /Pitkin, Lucy
  • The imaginary Coney Island /Gabey, Ivy, Ensemble
  • Some Other Time /Claire, Hildy, Ozzie, Chip
  • The Reai Coney Island /Rajah Bimmy
  • New York, New York (Reprise) / Full Company
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