A Jaunty Production of On the Town
Outside of New York City, the groundbreaking 1944 Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green musical On the Town is rarely revived. Indeed, the greater Seattle area hasn't seen it since a jovial staging at Village Theatre during the 1995-96 season, so the current 5th Avenue Theatre production is a welcome return for the airy, melodious and dance happy show. Director Bill Berry instills the right sense of screwball fun, and has stacked his aces with a top-flight, largely Seattle-based cast. Ian Eisendrath waives his baton as musical director over a large and spot-on orchestra, and choreographer Bob Richard, with the Spectrum Dance Theatre company as the base of the show's dancing ensemble, keeps this On the Town on its toes.
Plot heavy On the Town is not. Three sailors, Gabey, Chip and Ozzie, have a 24-hour shore leave in the Big Apple and go in search of three gals to spend it with. Gabey, the romantic of the trio, chooses to seek out a girl he sees posted on the subway as "Miss Turnstiles" for the month, Ivy Smith, whom he thinks is the last word in class, but in fact is a struggling arts student paying her bills being a hoochie cootchie dancer at Coney Island. Ozzie, who fascinates wacky anthropologist Claire de Loon, and Chip, who shifts cab driver Hildy into high gear, team up to help Gabey find his dream girl over the course of a wild night, which leads them to various Manhattan bistros, with Claire's earnest, erstwhile fiancÚ Judge Pitkin W. Bridgework, Hildy's homely roommate Lucy, and Ivy's besotted vocal coach Madame Dilly along for the ride.
The Bernstein ballet music is still rapturously joyous or melancholy as required, and it is danced to perfection by the Spectrum dancers. The tune stack by Bernstein, with typically raffish and clever Comden and Green lyrics, remains one of the best of its era, a cunning mix of near-art songs like Gabey's achingly poignant "Lonely Town" and the wonderfully wistful "Some Other Time," and potent comic numbers such as Claire and Ozzie's deft pseudo-symphonic duet "Carried Away," Chip and Hildy's tongue-twisting taxi number "Come Up to My Place" and Hildy's jazzy "I Can Cook Too." Oh, and the whole show kicks off with the exultant "New York, New York."
A less able cast would really weigh this particular show down, but happily, the 5th Avenue team is totally up to the challenge. Joe Aaron Reid is an appealing Gabey, handling the heaviest dance requirements of the three male leads with ease, and vocalizing with charm and style. As his dream girl Ivy, Courtney Iventosch is also a winning dancer. Ozzie and Claire are ideally realized by local favorites Greg McCormick Allen and Billie Wildrick, while Matt Owen brings a genially goofy grin and robust energy to his Chip, playing against the musical comedy force-of-nature that is Sarah Rudinoff as Hildy. Broadway veteran Allen Fitzpatrick is slyly hilarious as the overly understanding Pitkin, Suzie Hunt is, well, a dilly of a Madame Dilly, and Jennifer Sue Johnson garners guffaws as the adenoidal Lucy Schmeeler. Finally, a shout out to Richard Gray whose cameo turns as virtually the entire eccentric male population of Manhattan is potently hilarious.
The '40s fantasyland Manhattan settings by Walt Spangler are delicious technicolored cartoons, with a sparkling light design by Tom Sturge and scrumptious costumes by David C. Woolard completing a look that is right out of a vintage picture postcard.
On the Town runs through May 2, 2010 at the 5th Avenue Theatre 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. Visit the 5th Avenue's website at www.5thavenuetheatre.org for further details.
See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.