“On the Town” is known to most as a movie musical but there was a stage musical that preceded it. And though the film had mega-stars (Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, Ann Miller, Vera Ellen) giving classic film moments to recommend it, the creative film team made changes from the original show that …in my opinion… made it a less satisfying show. I am not talking about the production values or casting. It is a classic. I am saying that the original script and songs in the Broadway show made more sense. On the Town” originally started as a ballet in 1944 by Jerome Robbins called “Fancy Free,” set to music by Leonard Bernstein. Those two gentlemen thought that the ballet could be expanded into a broadway show and collaborated with friends Bette Comden and Adolph Green for the book and lyrics. It was an all-star collaboration as they got the fabled director George Abbot to direct.
The story is about three sailors on leave for 24 hours in New York. They are “on the town.” The sailors are Gabey, Chip and Ozzie. Gabey sees a poster of this month’s “Miss Turnstiles” in the subway and falls in love with Ivy Smith. He HAS to find her. Chip and Ozzie are indebted to Gabey, who saved their lives in battle, and are committed as bff’s to help him. They maximize the search by each looking separately. Chip. who wants to see all the sights that his father saw a decade ago, hops in a cab in search of “the subway people.” There he meets Hildy, a no-nonsense New Yorker, who falls for Chip hook, line and sinker. While he wants her to help him not just search but sightsee, she has other ideas. She wants to corral him in her apartment. Ozzie goes to the museum in search of the very cultured, Miss Turnstiles. He meets an anthropologist there, Claire. She falls for him, even though she has a fiancé, the very understanding Judge Pitkin. She sings “Carried Away,” explaining her primal impulses. Gabey goes to Carnegie Hall and finds Ms. Turnstiles, a.k.a. Ivy Smith taking dance lessons from the less than upright Madame Dilly. They agree to go out together but, due to some chicanery, she has to stand him up.
Also, involved in all of this is Hildy’s roommate, Lucy Schmeeler, a very plain girl.
With all this in the mix, different indiscretions and events occur for each couple, which complicates things legally for them. To see the clever resolution, you need to buy a ticket.
Why is the stage version better than the film? The film added a tap number for Ann Miller but, other than that, the cuts from the original were wrong. The film took out the role of Judge Pitken. Eliminating the judge gave the story a less satisfying ending. It substituted the song “You Can Count on Me” for “You Got Me.” Not a good idea. And dropping the haunting “Some Other Time” was a sin. And that is what should be edifying for local audiences. They get to see the original, superior material with a super cast at Music Mountain Theater for 3 weeks, ending August 20th. This is a dance musical. With ballet as source material, dancing is important. Luckily in the leads of Gabey and Ivy, there are two accomplished dancers in Louis Palena and Jaime Geddes. Form and line are important in ballet. And that is what they bring….they are wonderful together. Jerome Robbins would be pleased at their performances.
The Times Square Ballet was terrific. The lush melody of “Lonely Town,” sung by Palena, was performed and danced beautifully. Geddes has amazing control and legs that extend for days. It is a treat to watch her move, so gracefully and effortlessly…which I know is not effortless but takes discipline and years of training.
Shan Williams as Ozzie is assembling a lot of credits as being a triple threat actor (dancing, singing and acting). This confirms his abilities after his great breakout performance in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Jenny McNiven as Claire, Ozzie’s girlfriend is an actress whose name in a show, for those in the know, will be a show that you want to see. She is an extraordinarily fine actress, both in plays and musicals. Her dancing and singing are wonderful. And the surprise, for many, will be her not-so- often seen super dancing. Going back to form and great extension…she nails it. For me, I will go to a show with high expectations when her name is on it. Quality is a brand and McNiven has that brand.
Wyatt Kim is delightful as a wide-eyed Chip, bringing a super-smile when confronted with the aggressive Hildy. Joan Schubin has the dream role of Hildy. It is a dream role as one of the best songs of the night is the jazzy “I Can Cook Too” and the role itself is a rich one to mine for comic effect. Schubin gives a strong performance. Cathy Alaimo and Libby Kane are blessed with the character roles of Madame Dilly and Lucy Schmeeler, two great comic creations by Comden and Green. Both do a fine job. (As an aside: Kane is a chameleon. I didn’t initially recognize her as Lucy. She seems to be able to be the sexy vivacious Iren Roth in “Crazy for You” and then a Mother Superior in “Sound of Music” and now the geeky Lucy. Impressive).
Justin Derry’ strong baritone/bass voice is perfect for the judge. Great job by Mr. Derry. Shoutout to Nicholas La Russa as the M.C. and Denise Boyle as Flossie. They made bold choices for their characters and stuck to them. Accents and commitment to the role matter and they made their parts their own, noticeable and were delightful.
With great dancing at the forefront, beautiful performances and an incredible score by Leonard Bernstein, put on some dancing shoes and jete’ to your phone/computer to get tickets at https://www.showclix.com/event/on-the-town-2023 , so that you too can be “on the town.”
Photos by John Posada