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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
On the Town
The show opens with "The Star Spangled Banner" as it did in December 1944 when the country was at war. Three young sailors arrive for their twenty-four hour shore leave and the urgency of their need to cram as much living as possible into one day hints at the fragility of human existence and even though the war is never spoken about, the audience senses their compelling desire to seize the day!
The three men, Ozzie (Clyde Alves), Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Gabey (Tony Yazbeck) leap off that ship into the rousing "New York, New York," armed with an outdated guidebook and expectation that the city can be done in a day, girls included. Ah! The energy of youth.
And it's not just the men whose animated antics and comedic talents rivet our attention. The three girls who will become the requisite love interests are not shy about their desires either. Hildy (Alysha Umphress, Claire (Elizabeth Stanley) and Ivy (Deanna Doyle) complement their men in acting and dancing ability. In a time where every sexually desirable male is deployed in the service of his country, the women are obviously emotionally and sexually starved. In this show there is no dearth of blatant male chest beating and female sexual dynamism. Comden and Green's book tells it like it is.
There can be no doubt what's on the minds of these women with sizzling numbers such as "Come Up To My Place" and "I Can Cook Too," both delivered by Umphress' Hildy with a raunchy dazzle that leaves very little to the imagination,and Johnson's Chip is the perfect foil.
Stanley's Claire and Alves' Ozzie whoop it up in the hilarious "Carried Away" and the "Caveman Dance" intimating a very energetic romp will follow outside the audience's purview. This predictable but amusing fling is punctuated by beautifully choreographed ballet, burlesque bump-and- grind, and fluid chorus line art in an orgy of flashing 40's costumes, (Jennifer Caprio) and lush musical accompaniment (Conductor-Darren R. Cohen) rounded out by imaginative but simple sets (Beowulf Boritt) and equally versatile lighting.(Jason Lyons). The efforts of these artists enhance the vivacious and vibrant ensemble whose talents sparkle amid the classic yet creative production values.
It is of course the two romantic leads whose toned down sexuality and endearing romanticism drive the story forward, as Gabey (Yazbeck) searches for the elusive Ivy Smith, "Miss Turnstile" (Doyle) and, as in all well-plotted, love stories actually finds her in - Carnegie Hall. In the thrall of their considerable talents the audience has willingly suspended its disbelief in finding all of these plot machinations plausible.
Yazbeck is reprising the role of Gabey having performed it at City Center Encores! When he sings "Lonely Town" his sensitive everyman demeanor underscores the actual plight of these young boys so far from their homes and human connections as they face a very tenuous future.
Doyle's ethereal grace, as the object of his fantasy, has the necessary grit to keep her from becoming a cliché. When they dance together, the magic of their talent and Joshua Bergasse's choreography combine to create heavenly stage imagery of idealized love and optimism. Bergasse is the Emmy Award winning choreographer of Smash and has a long list of shows to his credit.
Director John Rando's considerable skill has united these gifted professionals into a cohesive, energetic and witty celebration of youthful exuberance amidst dark days. The pace and energy of On The Town illuminate his success as a Tony Award winner for "Urinetown, The Musical" and a host of Broadway credits and accolades.
The melancholy "Some Other Time" heralds the expected end of the fantastical day with the lovers acknowledging the insecurity of their situation as they reluctantly part. But as three new sailors bound from the ship singing a rousing "New York, New York" we are ready for a repeat cycle of irrepressible life.
You won't want to miss this escapade which runs through July 13th.
Editor's Note: For a full list of all the songs featured in this musical, see the end of Curtainup's somewhat less 100% enthusiastic review of the last Broadway revival in 1998. review and the more recent Encores! production also directed by John Rando review.
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