Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Helluva Show

On the Town
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; adapted by David Ives
Directed by John Rando
Choreographed by Warren Carlyle
Conducted by Todd Ellison
Starring Justin Bohon, Christian Borle, Michael Cumpsty, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Leslie Kritzer, Andrea Martin, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Tony Yazbeck

New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street
Performances November 19-23, 2008

Borle, Yazbeck and Bohon in On the Town (photo: Joan Marcus)
The best of the many citywide programs celebrating the 90th birthday of Leonard Bernstein, the Encores! presentation of On the Town has it all: glorious dancing, amusing book and lyrics, charming acting and singing, and, hovering above it all, Bernstein’s ear-catching, witty and melodic score, which marries the worlds of ballet and Broadway musicals in a way that’s never been bettered.

On the Town follows three sailors on 24-hour leave in New York City who want to see the sights and find women willing to accompany him on their brief sojourn. This simplest of plots is cleverly assembled by book/lyric writers extraordinaire, Betty Comden and Adolph Green (with an assist by David Ives, who is Encores! book adapter), but it’s Bernstein’s endlessly inventive music that propels this funny, touching romantic comedy into the stratosphere.

The music is a constant marvel: the sprightly Overture and dazzling Act I finale, “Times Square Ballet,” are justly famous, but there’s so much more, starting with “Come Up to My Place” and “Carried Away,” which are the standards by which all other couple’s meeting songs are measured, and “Some Other Time,” a wistfully beautiful quartet that could stand alongside Mozart and Strauss.

Director John Rando and choreographer Warren Carlyle put their own stamp on On the Town. Rando’s staging smartly lays out the action at the front of the stage and on a raised rear platform behind the visible–and superlative–Encores! Orchestra, led by Todd Ellison. What we lose in scenic design (after all, this is a non-stop tour of New York City’s delights), we gain in seeing a continuously action-packed City That Never Sleeps, with tongue-in-cheek titles providing time and place.

Carlyle’s breezy dances genuflect to Jerome Robbins’ breathtaking originals: and his dancers are spectacular, giving the right amount of fizz to such familiar pieces as the classic “Times Square Ballet” and “Coney Island pas de deux” so they remain fresh and energetic.

The splendid cast is led by a terrific trio of sailors, Justin Bohon, Christian Borle and Tony Yazbeck, who have both the tunes and the moves down–Yazbeck’s haunting “Lonely Town” is the show’s highlight. The swabbies’ women are equally sparkling: hilarious Leslie Kritzer (as Hildy Esterhazy), dry Jennifer Laura Thompson (Claire de Loone), and lissome Jessica Lee Goldyn (Miss Turnstiles), all of whom sing and dance their way into our boys’ (and our) hearts.

Also notable are Michael Cumpsty, properly unflappable as Claire’s put-upon fiancĂ©, and Andrea Martin, who keeps audience, cast and musicians in stitches with her constant ad-libs as the ribald dance teacher, Maude P. Dilly—including one precious moment during the Carnegie Hall lesson where Goldyn pauses lest she lose it completely.

There’s always a debate about Encores! shows transferring to Broadway. It worked for the blockbuster Chicago (which is still running)–maybe it’s it time to try again. An unalloyed delight, this On the Town should take the entire town by storm for more than a single weekend.

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