Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The youth of the 1944 show's creatorsincluding first-time book and lyric writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the average age was 27comes through in the inspired silliness of character names (Claire de Loone? Pitkin W. Bridgework?) and the propulsive energy of the plot, but the underlying sense of living for the moment during wartime keeps it from being strictly frivolous. Director Jason Loewith understands both sides of the musical and allows riotous humor to coexist with the high stakes.
The story begins with three Navy pals bursting out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard at 6 a.m. on a June day, ready to do the town. Gawky Chip (Evan Casey) wants to sightsee, aspiring Lothario Ozzie (Sam Ludwig) wants to find as many women as possible, and Gabey (Rhett Guter) falls in love with a photo of "Miss Turnstiles" Ivy Smith (Claire Rathbun) he sees on a poster in the subway. An outspoken female cab driver, Hildy (Tracy Lynn Olivera, married to Casey offstage), changes Chip's perception of the city; an anthropologist, Claire (Rachel Zampelli), discovers that Ozzie is a kindred spirit; and Gabey deals with a lot of things during the day.
As good as the six leads areOlivera is a hoot by herself and even funnier in her scenes with Casey; Rathbun is an exquisite ballet dancerthe recurring presence of Donna Migliaccio and Bobby Smith in a series of now-you-see-them, now-you-don't roles becomes the main running joke of this production. Migliaccio's portrayals range from a hard-drinking voice teacher to a lugubrious nightclub singer, while Smith plays the ridiculously empathetic Bridgework (who is engaged to Claire but seems to like Ozzie better) as well as a nightclub emcee, a Coney Island huckster, and several other New Yorkers. Suzanne Lane steals the scene whenever she appears as Hildy's roommate, Lucy Schmeeler.
Tara Jeanne Vallee's choreography echoes Robbins' style without copying it, down-to-earth and anchored in everyday movement with flourishes of ballet. The ensemble is in constant motion, whether bouncing along on the subway, rehearsing in Carnegie Hall, or pushing through crowds in Times Square, while Guter and Rathbun have two dream ballets.
Music director Christopher Youstra not only conducts 13 polished musicians from the piano at the rear of Court Watson's fluid scenic design, he also created the scaled-down orchestrations of Bernstein's tricky score. Rosemary Pardee's costumes capture the era, from the omnipresent hats to day dresses and flowing evening wear, and Colin K. Bills' lighting design washes the stage while highlighting important moments.
One note: this production interpolates a song from the 1949 movie adaptation of On the Town, with a Comden and Green lyric but music by Roger Edens instead of Bernstein. It isn't listed in the program and it doesn't fit the style of the rest of the score, but it does give one of the lead couples a duet that isn't in the original show.
Olney Theatre Center