SHORE LEAVE: A REVIEW OF “ON THE TOWN”

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One of the most entertaining musicals in the history of American theatre–the romantic, dance-filled, hilariously funny “On the Town”–is currently being revived at the Lyric Theatre on Broadway.

Catch it before the tickets disappear.

The story, if you’ve never seen the show in any of its previous incarnations, or the Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra movie, features a trio of wide-eyed, small-town sailors on twenty-four hour shore leave in New York.  When Gabey, the most easily-smitten of the three, sees a poster in the subway of Ivy Smith, the reigning Miss Turnstiles (the action is set in the 1940s), he falls in love with her immediately, and recruits his pals to help him find her (in a city the size of New York, no small task).  But–somehow–find her he does (twice, no less!), his buddies get girls of their own, and a good time is had by everyone–and all over the course of one VERY eventful day.

“On the Town” is an old-fashioned musical in the very best sense; they really DON’T make ’em like this anymore.  Characters not only sing, and beautifully, but they also dance–boy, do they dance–with entire dream-like sequences devoted to original choreographer Jerome Robbins’ breathtaking ballets (updated here by Joshua Bergasse). Few shows these days include ballet; happily, this show is an exception.

Michael Rosen, high-stepping into the role of Gabey at the performance I attended (a late preview)  was wonderful: just “one of the guys” when among his chums, but pie-eyed around the girl of his dreams, he was touching and charming and altogether delightful.  Clyde Alves and Jay Armstrong Johnson as his buddies proved to be gifted physical comedians as well as top-notch dancers.  Alysha Umphress as Hildy the amorous cab driver, Elizabeth Stanley as the stiff-necked but ultimately ready-for-anything paleontologist, and the incomparable Jackie Hoffman as Ivy’s singing teacher all earned big laughs.  And, as Ivy herself, Megan Fairchild had a voice that belied her diminutive size, the grace of a world-class ballerina, and a sweetness and vulnerability that made it easy to see how a lonely, homesick sailor could have fallen in love with her in the first place.

And, oh, those songs! “New York, New York”…Hildy’s “I Can Cook, Too”…Gabey’s achingly soulful “Lonely Town”–they’re all here, and then some, scored by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and performed, spectacularly, by one of the best Broadway orchestras (under the baton of conductor James Moore) around.

John Rando directed; Jess Goldstein created the costumes; Beowulf Boritt designed the set, which segued from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the Museum of Natural History to 1940s Coney Island and back again (and that’s not even the half of it); Jason Lyons was responsible for the cheery/moody/ romantic lighting.

Somewhere, Robbins and Bernstein are nodding with approval, and smiling, too…and maybe even humming right along.

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THEATRE REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien