On the Town
On The Town is a great big helping of theatrical cotton candy. It’s sweet, it’s fluffy, it’s light, and it has absolutely no pretense of being good for you.
Even if you’ve been living under a rock for the last sixty years or so, you still probably have some vague familiarity with this tale of three sailors on leave for one day in “New York, New York” - and the energetic dance number that goes along with that famous song. In Reprise’s production, the number doesn’t quite burst off the stage like you might hope it would. It’s got a lot of people in it, and a good deal of impressive steps (even more impressive given Reprise’s limited rehearsal time), but it just doesn’t explode with the excitement of the city.
(center, from left to right) David Brouwer, Tami Tappan Damiano,
David Elder, Bets Malone and Jeffrey Schecter
There’s a helluva lot of dancing in On The Town - so much so that you may wonder what Reprise was thinking in taking on such a dance-heavy musical. Turns out, they knew what they were doing. Choreographer Lee Martino and her ensemble of dancers deliver the goods. From the “Presentation of Miss Turnstiles,” in which our beauty queen moves from partner to partner and style to style; to “Lonely Town,” in which a man laments being alone while graceful couples dance sensually around him, lost in their own worlds; to the first act closer, “Times Square Ballet” - there is some solidly entertaining dancing going on here. There are the occasional misses in synchronization, and the female ensemble is somewhat weaker than the male ensemble - but all things considered, this is without a doubt the most challenging show from a dance perspective that Reprise has ever attempted and it leaves you with a smile on your face, shaking your head in wonderment at how they managed to accomplish it all.
The other place where On The Town triumphs is in its comedy. While one sailor is off seeking true love, his two buddies find themselves companions of a less permanent nature. Chip (Jeffrey Schecter), the likeable fellow who wants to cram a week’s worth of sightseeing into one day, finds himself the object of a female cabbie’s affection. Bets Malone is perfectly adorable as the taxi driver with a one-track mind, the role originated by Nancy Walker. You can hear a little Nancy Walker in Malone’s sly delivery, but she also puts her own comic stamp on the material.
The other comic couple is sailor Ozzie and the anthropologist he picks up at the Museum of Natural History, Claire de Loone. David Brouwer sometimes seems a little too aware that he’s playing a comedic sidekick, and some of his jokes fall flat. Tami Tappan Damiano is the woman who meets him while working on her study, “Modern Man - What Is It?” But when Ozzie finds the right question to ask, Claire’s staid scientist persona falls away, revealing her to be a flighty, kooky, fun-loving gal. When Ozzie and Claire sing about the joys of getting “Carried Away,” Brouwer and Damiano gleefully go over-the-top with it, making it a comic gem.
On The Town is also chock-full of comic bit parts, and Reprise has assembled a top-notch cast for them. Heading the list is Harriet Harris as the well-pickled voice teacher Madam Dilly, who keeps hopeless students around because their lesson fees keep her in booze. Reprise regular Larry Cedar is delightful as Claire’s doormat of a fiance. Jody Ashworth gets laughs in a handful of character parts. Alissa-Nicole Koblentz also scores as the same lounge singer in a couple of different clubs.
The one place where On The Town fizzles is in its lead romance between sailor Gabey and “Miss Turnstiles,” Ivy Smith. While Gabey is originally attracted to Ivy’s poster, it’s love at first sight once he actually meets her. Although Gabey and Ivy are considered the show’s leads (they have the final bow), their plotline is fairly underdeveloped and - with all the riotous comedy and entertaining dancing going on around them - they seem rather more like “romantic relief” than the main characters. David Elder has an earnest “song and dance man” voice, and a nice grace to his dancing, but he doesn’t give Gabey a particularly captivating personality. Kate Levering has a bit more luck with Ivy, clearly distinguishing between the idealized Ivy (who appears in dream sequences) and the real girl. But Levering and Elder have no chemistry together - it feels like they’re just going through the motions rather than falling in love - and their ultimate reunion is more of a parenthetical phrase than an exclamation point on an otherwise delightful show.
On the Town runs through October 2, 2005 at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse. For tickets and information, see www.reprise.org.
Reprise! Broadway’s Best -- Marcia Seligson, Producing Artistic Director; Jim Gardia, Managing Director -- presents On The Town. Music by Leonard Bernstein; Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Based on an idea by Jerome Robbins. Scenic Design Bradley Kaye; Costume Design Mirena Rada; Lighting Design Tom Ruzika; Sound Design Philip G. Allen; Orchestrations by Leonard Bernstein, Hershy Kay, Don Walker, Elliott Jacoby, Ted Royal and Bruce Coughlin. Associate Music Director Darryl Archibald; Music Coordinator Joe Soldo; Technical Director Brian Staubach; Casting Director Bruce C. Newberg, C.S.A.; Production Stage Manager David Lober; Press Representative David Elzer/Demand PR; Company Manager Danny Feldman; General Manager Kelly Estrella. Produced by Marcia Seligson; Music Direction by Gerald Sternbach; Choreographed by Lee Martino; Directed by Dan Mojica.
Photo by Michael Lamont