On the Town

Chris Gatterdam, Michael Greer
and Jordan Spencer

On December 28, 1944, a classic was born. On the Town, with music by Leonard Bernstein (his first score) plus book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, was an immediate hit and ran for 462 performances. Jerome Robbins, who started with a ballet version called Fancy Free, provided his unique style of choreography, and legendary George Abbott directed. The 1949 film starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra brought more fans to the fold, and the show has been a regional and school favorite in the years since. The Conservatory Theatre Company of Point Park University is presenting their take on On the Town through November 21 with an attractive, energetic production.

Three sailors have landed in New York City for the first time, with 24 hours of shore leave to enjoy the attractions. Gabey (Jordan Spencer), Chip (Chris Gatterdam) and Ozzie (Michael Greer) are wide-eyed and anxious to take in the unique sights of the city. They eventually meet three young women: poster-girl Ivy (Danielle Scanlon), sassy cabdriver Hildy (Anna Malinoski) and anthropologist Claire (Lindsey Carothers), who join in the frenetic pace of the rush to take in the energy and sumptuous offerings of the Big Apple in a single day.

On the Town offers many excellent show tunes, but the best known is "New York, New York," the song that sets up the premise for the show and expresses the sailors' joy at 24 hours shore leave. The production number shows the bustling assortment of diverse city dwellers on the streets of the city. Kiesha Lalama-White's original choreography, with a Jerome Robbins influence, provide dance numbers that are athletic and intricately planned. The three male leads shoulder the majority of the dance, and all three do a swell job. The large company performs group scenes precisely, providing the labyrinth necessary to create the atmosphere of the streets of New York. It's challenging dance work, but well created and performed, especially in this big opening number (though it doesn't technically open the show, but follows the brief "I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet" as the ship arrives). Other musical highlights include "Carried Away," humorously presented by Greer and Carothers, though the choreography-on-trampoline is more head-scratching than successful. The "Carnegie Hall Pavane" number featuring Scanlon, Missy Moreno as Madame Dilly and several ensemble members is clever, well executed and fun.

Sets designed by Roger Hanna are enticing and serve well, with several exterior and interior settings and clever subway sign indicators on each side of the stage to show the location of the scenes which involve the subway. Costumes by Don DiFonso are excellent, providing authenticity and allowing the performers to move easily. A particular highlight of costuming features building clusters worn two brave ensemble members. Each sports tall replicas of three city buildings - one featuring the Empire State Building and one the Chrysler Building - and they dance! Jack Allison's direction is careful, perhaps a bit cautious at times, but wisely doesn't push the cast.

It is commendable for a college troupe to take on the dance and vocal challenges of a professional-level production of this classic show, and the members of this cast (many of whom are underclassmen) work hard. Unfortunately, sometimes it's apparent that they're working hard; comfortable and natural performances are not quite there yet. However, the evidence of talent is clear and I look forward to seeing these young performers in future shows.

On the Town continues through November 21 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Tickets and performance information can be obtained at the box office, by phone at 412.621.4445 or online at www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.

Photo: Lighthouse Photography, Inc.

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-- Ann Miner

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