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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

On the Town
Paper Mill Playhouse
Guest Reviewer Tim Dunleavy

A Christmas Carol
Brian Shepard, Jennifer Cody, Tyler Hanes, Kelly Sullivan and Jeffrey Schecter
Paper Mill's new version of On the Town is a revival in every sense of the word. Director Bill Berry and his talented crew have not only restaged the 1944 musical about three sailors spending their 24-hour leave in New York City, they've also breathed new life into it. The result is an exuberant production that is sure to surprise and delight, even if you think you know the show.

While the cast is full of impressive performers, the real star of this On the Town is choreographer Patti Colombo, whose imaginative effort here marks her as one of the major talents in the business. Leonard Bernstein's dynamic score has four ballet numbers, and Colombo rises to the challenge with lively work that never seems stale. Most impressive is the "Imaginary Coney Island" ballet, danced with expressive grace by Tyler Hanes as the lovelorn sailor Gabey and Yvette Tucker as the pinup girl he idolizes.

There's plenty of comedy, too, thanks to the boisterous book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The book is dated and kind of corny, but in a good way; and the Bernstein/Comden/Green score finds moments for comedy ("I Can Cook Too"), tenderness (the beautiful "Lucky To Be Me") and sentimentality (the haunting "Some Other Time").

Jennifer Cody scores (in more ways than one) as an uninhibited taxi driver, while Kelly Sullivan shows off a gorgeous soprano and an impressive flair for comedy as a kooky anthropologist. There's also excellent work from Jeffrey Schecter as the goofiest of the sailors, while Bill Nolte is highly enjoyable as Sullivan's doormat of a fiancé.

The disappointments are minor. Brian Shepard barely registers as the naïve sailor Chip; his romantic partner Cody overpowers him (again, in more ways than one). Hanes sings and dances impressively as Gabey, but he never quite commands the stage the way the best leading men do. And Tony Award winner Harriet Harris doesn't get the tone right as the comic villainess Madame Dilly; she seems more mean than madcap. (Another Tony winner, Andrea Martin, got more laughs when she played the role in last year's production in New York's City Center Encores! series.)

Kudos must be given to Walt Spangler for his set design, which depicts everything from a subway train to a series of nightclubs in witty and unpredictable ways. It's another example of the high level of creativity that makes this On the Town so special.

On the Town runs through Sunday, December 6, 2009 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, New Jersey. Ticket prices range from $25 to $92, with student rush tickets available, and may be purchased by calling the box office at 973-376-4343, or in person at the box office, or online at www.papermill.org.

On the Town
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Based on an idea by Jerome Robbins
Directed by Bill Berry
Music Director ... Tom Helm
Choreography ... Patti Colombo
Scenic Design ... Walt Spangler
Costume Design ... David C. Woolard
Lighting Design ... Tom Sturge
Sound Design ... Randy Hansen
Casting Director ... Alison Franck
Production Stage Manager ... Richard C. Rauscher

Cast:
Ozzie ... Jeffrey Schecter
Chip ... Brian Shepard
Gabey ... Tyler Hanes
Ivy Smith ... Yvette Tucker
Hildy Esterhazy ... Jennifer Cody
Claire DeLoone ... Kelly Sullivan
Madame Maude P. Dilly ... Harriet Harris
Judge Pitkin W. Bridgework ... Bill Nolte
Lucy Schmeeler / Diana Dream / Dolores Dolores ... Tari Kelly
Ensemble: Steven Ted Beckler, Paige Faure, Tyler Foy, Cameron Henderson, Logan Kesler, Dana Maddox, Lindsay Moore, Casey Muha, Caitlin Mundth, Philip Northington, James A. Pierce III, Catherine Ricafort, Rod Roberts, Ryan Sandberg, Michael Scirrotto, Molly Tynes, Kyle Vaughn, Jacob Widman, Paige A. Williams


Photo: Kevin Sprague


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- Bob Rendell



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