New York City Theater
"On the Town"
It’s not a purple elephant, but a yellow T-Rex. No, no one’s drunkenly seeing things in the fizzy, joyful, occasionally bipolar revival of the 1944 hit, “On the Town,” that explodes with the energy of New York. The dancingest show on Broadway (all those energetic white-clad sailors), a throwback to when musical comedy meant just that, is awash with gobs chasing girls until the girls catch ‘em.
Wonderfully brassy and bluesy, the revival – directed with flair by John Rando and brilliantly choreographed by Joshua Bergasse -- is also brash and harsh. Although open-hearted, it takes an unfortunate turn into stereotypes, like the fruity MC that the stentorian Phillip Boykin is forced to portray.
The first collaboration of old friends Leonard Bernstein (music), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (book and lyrics) and Jerome Robbins (original idea, based on his ballet “Fancy Free”), the musical has been revived several times, without much success. This version comes from Barrington Stage in the Berkshires and it’s a doozy for the most part.
Sexed-up for 2014, the revival has two of the three sailors on a 24-hour leave in the city score. It’s the third, Gabey, whose quest for Miss Turnstiles (read Miss Subways) provides the thin, goofy plot with its existence. Helping him in his search when not otherwise engaged in being seduced, are Ozzie and Chip.
Ozzie (a scrappy Clyde Alves) meets his pick-up, Claire (an unsatisfactory Elizabeth Stanley), at the museum, hence the ridiculously colored dinosaur. Chip (the enthusiastic Jay Armstrong Johnson) is set upon by taxi driver Hildy (a jackhammering Alysha Umphress). Along the way, they meet an imbibing ballet teacher, an angry old lady and a ditsy nightclub singer, all portrayed with abandon by Jackie Hoffman at her nuttiest.
But it’s Gabey’s story we’re meant to follow, as he pursues Ivy, the current Miss Turnstiles, from Manhattan to Coney Island, while he and his buddies are themselves pursued by a phalanx of aggrieved citizens and a cop. If the plot doesn’t amount to much, and leads to several slapstick interludes, at least it has forward momentum.
Rising star Tony Yazbeck as Gabey gives a triple threat performance, singing “Lonely Town” with yearning and dancing with a floating exuberance that is positively uplifting. Partnering him is New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild as Ivy, a lovely dancer though not much of an actress, as if that mattered. Their second act dream ballet is wondrous.
Salutes also to Michael Rupert as the accommodating Pitkin, Allison Guinn as the adenoidal Lucy Schmeeler and Stephen DeRosa in a variety of comic roles. Beowulf Boritt’s scenic and projection designs add to the fun.
This “On the Town,” lovingly produced, should please lots of people. It doesn’t have the innocence of the original but it does have a 28-piece orchestra to play “Carried Away,” “I Can Cook, Too,” “Lucky to be Me,” “Some Other Time” and, of course, “New York, New York.” Like the city, the score is jazzy, neurotic, jumpy, edgy and sexy. Affirming this, knowing hands have fashioned a revival fit for our times.
--David A. Rosenberg
Nov. 1, 2014