On the Town
nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
November 15, 2009
On The Town originated as a Jerome Robbins/Leonard Bernstein contemporary ballet called "Fancy Free" in April 1944 at American Ballet Theater. "Fancy Free" proved so successful that its creators teamed up with Betty Comden and Adolph Green and the full-scale musical On The Town premiered in December that same year (an astonishing feat by today's standards). It was also made into an MGM film with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in 1949.
Not having seen the film or any production of On The Town before I was simply enchanted by the production now playing at Paper Mill Playhouse.
Wow! What an astonishingly nostalgic (for us) dance-centric, musically comedic theatrical extravaganza! It was such a pleasure to hear the magnificent full orchestra playing Bernstein's lush musical score and such a tremendous joy to see these talented energetic dancers take over the stage and the evening's 17 scenes and 22 musical numbers.
Three young and lusty American sailors—Gabey (Tyler Hanes), Chip (Brian Shepard), and Ozzie (Jeffrey Schecter)—are on leave in the Big Apple and they intend to live a lifetime of adventures in just 24 hours.
They meet up with three equally lusty young women, Ivy Smith (Yvette Tucker), Hildy Esterhazy (Jennifer Cody), and Claire DeLoone (Kelly Sullivan). Of course, confusion and hilarity ensue as everyone teams up to help Gabey find his dream girl Ivy, "Miss Turnstiles." The whole cast is physically adept—I don't know when I have seen so many bodies flying effortlessly through the air—joyful, effervescent, and comically gifted. Hanes's earnest Gabey is a good contrast to the goofiness of Shepard's Chip and Schecter's Ozzie. Their dancing and singing is certainly top-notch, but here it is the ladies who walk away with the show. Doe-eyed Tucker is extremely appealing as Ivy and Sullivan and Cody are hilariously funny as Claire and Hildy. Particularly, the delightful Jennifer Cody, a 4-foot,11-inch ball of fire, skillfully steals every scene she is in.
More comic reinforcements turn up in the forms of Harriet Harris (Madame Dilly), Bill Nolte (Judge Bridgework), Tari Kelly (Hildy's roommate Lucy Schmeeler), and a thoroughly solid ensemble.
Everyone's efforts are enhanced by Walt Spangler's amazing sets, which perfectly evoke wartime New York City locations and cleverly and smoothly move the action from one recognizable Big Apple landmark to the next. The period costumes by David C. Woolard are remarkable. I especially liked the flowing, gossamer numbers created for the dream ballet sequences. Sewing machines must have been roaring round the clock for the sheer volume of charming outfits on display throughout the course of the show. Mark Adam Rampmeyer's hair and wig designs perfectly "cap off" the period style of the piece, although just a few more wig clips may be in order for some of the wilder dances. Lighting by Tom Sturge sets everything off to great advantage.
Bill Berry has directed and Patti Colombo has choreographed the show with precision and understanding. The choreography, on the whole, is supremely excellent. My only wish was that some of the same care, thought, time, and effort that had gone into the big heartfelt ballets and comic tour-de-force dance numbers was given to the Keystone Cop-like chase scenes, which come off as a bit too cartoonish and amateurish by comparison. Also, the final scene when Gabey, Chip and Ozzie finally get back to the ship and bid their new friends farewell felt somewhat anti-climatic given all the excitement that was building up to the moment.
But all in all, if you are looking for some light-hearted fun and want to see an expert, pull-out-all-the-stops presentation of a classic gem from America's musical theatre canon, you don't need to look any further than On The Town at Paper Mill Playhouse. The show would be great fun for almost everyone in the family. I say "almost" because some of the staging may be a bit too "racy" for younger children. The show runs until December 6th in Millburn, New Jersey. The fleet is in! You won't be disappointed.