Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
On the Town
Also see Fred's review of Billy Elliot
Barrington Stage Company's production of On the Town, complete with delightfully acrobatic ballet, is an absolute, enthusiastic blast of a musical! Continuing through July 13th on the mainstage in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the production brings together joy and discipline as it breathes with the virtues of this genre.
The current revival notes that it is originally "based on an idea by Jerome Robbins." When On the Town first opened in New York late in December of 1944, it was based upon a ballet called Fancy Free which Robbins developed with a youthful Leonard Bernstein. Then, as is the case with the current show, three sailors, in 1944, are on 24 hour leave and find themselves in New York City. One of them, Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) carries a tour book and hopes to find some engaging landmark sites. Gabey (Tony Yazbeck), however, spots a poster of Ivy Smith (Deanna Doyle), recently dubbed Miss Turnstiles, and he is immediately smitten. Ozzie (Clyde Alves) will pair up with a fetching and statuesque anthropologist named Claire De Loone (Elizabeth Stanley) while Chip and cabbie Hildy (Alysha Umphress) get together.
Here is one caveat: I understand the motive as, at the outset of the performance, all those attending rise and sing the National Anthem before a hanging American flag.. Yes, this effectively transports us to a patriotic time and place in the midst of World War II an America singularly different from the one we currently experience. Still ....
Soon thereafter, the sailors light up the stage with "New York, New York" and the joie-de-vivre permeates throughout and thereafter. The actors fly through numbers choreographed by the obviously gifted Joshua Bergasse. The musical marked the presence, on Broadway during the mid-1940s, of Bernstein, as composer, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who provide book and lyrics. Now, Darren R. Cohen, as musical director, and John Rando, directing the BSC depiction, invigorate this classic work. Rando imagined this presentation and everyone associated actualizes that vision.
One first act highlight: the amusing scene at The Museum of Natural History where Claire and Ozzie meet. That is followed by the plaintive "Lonely Town," rendered with heart by actor Tony Yazbeck, who is physically strong yet tender. "Times Square Ballet," which leads to intermission is performed with precision and grace.
Designer Beowulf Borritt furnishes a lovely and movable cityscape which is lit, by Jason Lyons, in various hues to match specific scenes; it is most effective and it supports rather than dominates the production. Thus, singing and, even more importantly, dancing flourish.
Clearly, the men, during varying moments, have more than passing interest in women. After all, the time is flying by and soon they will be back on the ship. Thus, a sensuous if not sexual context cannot be denied. One waits for the time when Ivy and Gabey will finally locate one another. Each of them is powerfully muscular. Costumer Jennifer Caprio brings outfits perfect for the period which allow for maximum flexibility. This On the Town requires significant athleticism of its performers.
The second and shorter portion of the evening allows for Judge Pitkin (Michael Rupert), a supportive character, to express "I Understand" and then explicate just why he does not. This is a large (26 person) cast production and it includes a most capable contingent of 10 pit musicians who are hidden from view. The balance between instrumentalists and vocalists is commendable; Ed Chapman's sound design counts in this regard.
In all, Rando and his cast/creative team bring effervescence to the Berkshires with this show. On the Town has something for everyone: music, dance, comedy (goofy subplot), and glowing talent galore.
On the Town continues at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage through July 13th. For ticket information, call (413) 236-8888 or visit www.barringtonstageco.org.
- Fred Sokol