The classic musical revival is a silly and fun night on the town.
At 6am, a ship docks at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and out tumble three sailors on leave to visit New York City for their very first time. It may not be 1944 anymore, but this Broadway revival of the classic Leonard Bernstein musical is still as much fun as its original production. As Ozzie, Chip and Gabey set their sites on taking the city—and its eligible young women—by storm, they show modern audiences what it means to be On the Town.
It's a simple premise, of the sort of logic that only seems to work in musicals. On their very first subway ride to see the sights, the three young men come across a poster celebrating this month's Miss Turnstiles beauty pageant winner, and Gabey promptly falls in love. The men vow to find Ivy Smith and get her on a date with Gabey, while finding the other two companions for their night on the town as well.
Before long, Chip finds himself under the watchful eye of domineering, recently fired taxi driver Hildy, while Ozzie gets carried away with the romantically deprived anthropologist Claire de Lune. And what of Ivy herself? As we soon find out, her life is far more complicated than what was written on the poster.
On the Town is a show that absolutely refuses to take itself seriously. Whether it's dancing cavemen and dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History in "Carried Away," mannequins coming to life in "Gabey's Comin'" or the amazing comedic talents of Jackie Hoffman as every "little old lady" the crew encounters, this cast will keep you laughing every minute of the performance.
The act couldn't be carried off without the comedic talents of the cast, in particular the rather odd leading ladies. While Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Clyde Aves play the three sailors with a timeless youthful exuberance, the women they encounter oftentimes steal the show. Be grateful to book and lyrics writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green for creating such unique and dynamic female roles; Alysha Umphress' aggressive Hildy and Elizabeth Stanley's excitable Claire provide the perfect foil to the earnestness of Megan Fairchild's Ivy.
The highlight of this production is definitely the musical numbers, particularly catchy and energetic tunes such as "New York, New York" and "Do Do Re Do." Rarely in contemporary musicals do we see the entire stage cleared to make room for full ensemble dance numbers, a dozen sailors or beauty contestants leaping and twirling in perfect unison. Even the unexpected, extended dream sequence in the second act while Gabey searches for Ivy is visually stunning, delighting the audience with dynamic and innovative choreography.
The stage on the whole is extraordinarily colorful, changing drastically from scene to scene as we move from the Natural History Museum to Times Square to Coney Island. It is unclear whether the New York City of On the Town is meant to look like the city in the 1940s, the present day or some alternate NYC altogether, full of cut-out shapes and vibrant colors. Still, certain elements of the set design are very well done, from the series of nearly identical nightclubs the crew visit in the second act to the immense T-Rex puppet in the museum.
The show loses a bit of steam in the second half as we move from exploring the sites and sounds of Manhattan into an actual plot, which makes as little sense as anything else in this immensely silly performance. Claire's relationship with her fiance Pitkin, while necessary for the story to resolve, feels forced and a distraction from the true point of the play: to celebrate New York in 24 hours. What matters to this musical isn't the destination, it's the journey, and the people you meet along the way.
On the Town is an incredibly entertaining musical, an extravaganza of music, dance and good humor. It plays at the Lyric Theatre with an open run, so make sure to get your tickets while you can!
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.