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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
On the Town
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.