"On the Town" @ Lyric Theater

The Barrington Stage Company production of On the Town has made it to Broadway, brilliantly expanded to fill the large Lyric Theater, losing none of its summer theater charm. What is the magic ingredient that makes this revival of On the Town so wonderful? The previous revivals used the same witty libretto, music and lyrics by the youthful Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein, but they didn’t last. It sounds soppy but, perhaps, the missing element is love—a total, bananas love for the show and its colorful plot and gorgeous songs. It exudes from each performer, from every corner of the stage. Love and friendship guided the original 1944 production created by good buddies and it permeates the current tenant at the Lyric in Times Square. Somehow the Barrington production team has found a way to tap into the charming innocence of the original period of the show and yet make it vivid and accessible to 21st Century audiences. They’ve added sleek technical innovations and mined the libretto for all its silly double entendres. (Just watch the magnificent Jackie Hoffman peel a banana!) This On the Town is a joy when joy is in short supply.

On the Town, the most New York of musicals, takes three sailors on a 24-hour shore leave, following their romantic escapades. Gabey (Tony Yazbeck) is the romantic dreamer who falls in love with a poster of Ivy Smith (Megan Fairchild), Miss Turnstiles, and makes it his mission to find her. He enlists his two buddies Ozzie (Clyde Alves) who thinks of himself as a macho ladies’ man and Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) the naïve hayseed to find her. All their paths lead to romance. Gabey finds Ivy, but there are complications. Ozzie is seduced by Claire de Loone (Elizabeth Stanley) at the Natural History Museum where she is researching “Modern Man, What Is It?” her magnum opus. Chip, meanwhile grabs a cab driven by the very forward Hildy Esterhazy (Alysha Umphress) who proves that she “Can Cook, Too” as she seduces him.

All the characters, from the six principals down to the onlookers on the sidelines are well drawn and performed with a full-bodied abandon. They all just seem to be having fun, which is infectious. Each of the six leads created a distinct personality. The three men dance and sing beautifully. (Remember, the three original men weren’t dancers.) The three women, in particular, were colorfully different. The wonderful surprise was Megan Fairchild a New York City Ballet principal dancer making her Broadway debut. She dances like a dream, but also manages to sing respectably and make Ivy more than a sweet young thing.

Two of the character actors were particular standouts. Jackie Hoffman plays everything from a nasty old yenta to the lead singer at every nightclub the main characters go to forget about Ivy. She threw herself into each and every nuance of these people, sometimes descending into cartoony caricature, which is exactly what is called for here. She was belly-laugh terrific. Stephen DeRosa was also called upon to create at least seven characters. He goes from working class ship builder to effete nightclub host to nervous-wreck paleontologist with elan, energy and the kind of professional perfection that puts an audience at ease. Michael Rupert as Claire’s put-upon fiancé, the very patient Judge Pitkin gets laughs with his song “I Understand” as he quietly simmers.

The songs, which include the anthem “New York, New York” and the comic “I Can Cook, Too” have an urban wit, melodic brillance and rhythmic sophistication evoking a dreamy fantasy City. They are played by an unusually large orchestra under the direction of James Moore. The best, though, was “Some Other Time,” a bittersweet love song that perfectly caught the emotions of these wartime characters as they contemplate an unfathomable future.

The director, John Rando and the choreographer, Joshua Bergasse have created a swirling, madcap world, a zesty look at how New York must have been in the forties. They were immensely helped by Beowulf Boritt’s cinematic scenery and witty projections and Jess Goldstein’s colorful, period-perfect costumes.

On the Town
The Lyric Theatre
213 West 42nd St (between 7th & 8th Aves.)
New York, NY
Tickets: 877-250-2929, 800-982-2787 or www.ticketmaster.com
More Information: www.OnTheTownBroadway.com
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes

Filed under: