Monday, October 27, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: On the Town

Clyde Alves, Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson. Photo: Joan Marcus

Ballet Gets a Big Night On the Town in Old Fashioned Revival
By Lauren Yarger
More than 30 actors and an unusually large orchestra bring back the first Leonard Bernstein music heard on Broadway in an old-fashioned revival that’s a sort-of love song to the place where the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.

You might recognize those lyrics (and perhaps the whole thing thanks to the old film starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra). Yes, “New York, New York” is one of the tunes getting played by the 28-piece orchestra musically directed by James Moore. The original 1944 musical was based on an idea by Jerome Rpbbins, who had choreographed Bernstein’s tunes in a ballet called Fancy Free for the American Ballet Theater.

The book and lyrics are by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who gave us the screenplays for classics like “Singing in the Rain and “Good News” and the books for stage musicals Applause, Wonderful Town and On the Twentieth Century (which also will be revived this season on Broadway) among others.

And since its roots are in the ballet, this production features a lot of it. Far more than we usually get to see on a Broadway Stage. Joshua Bergasse, who choreographed the Barrington Stage revival which was the precursor for this Broadway revival, is making his Broadway debut. You might know his work from the TV show “Smash,” for which he won an Emmy.

Pulling the production together is excellent Director Jon Rando (A Christmas Story, Urinetown) on sets designed by Beowulf Boritt that use mirrored effect to let us see the choreography from all angles (and which make the 30-plus ensemble look even larger).

Now if you wonder why I have been talking about the creative part of the show instead of the show itself, there’s a reason. There’s not much of a plot. Three sailors on shore leave hope to find love (or at least some sex) during their night on the town. That’s about it. OK, I will fill in a few more details.
Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) has an old guide to the city and hopes to see some of the same sites his father told him about visiting a decade ago. He is disappointed to find many of them no longer exist, but ready-for-action cab driver Hildy (Alysha Umphress) adds her place to the itinerary and the two are soon taking a different kind of tour…

Ozzie (Clyde Alves) finds himself at the Museum of Natural History where anthropologist Claire de Loone (Elizabeth Stanley, whose high soprano is often hard to understand) finds him very much like the Neanderthals she is studying.  Because she’s also ready for action and eager to escape boring, but understanding Pitkin Bridgework (Michael Rupert), she is soon joining Ozzie for another kind of study about the development of man….

Meanwhile, the romantic adventures of Chip and Ozzie take them away for their real purpose that night: helping War hero buddy Gabey (Tony Yazbeck) track down June’s “Miss Turnstiles,” a.k.a. Ivy Smith (Megan Fairchild), whom Gabey fell in love with when he saw her face on a subway poster. Gabey manages to find Ivy on his own, however, but will their romance be thwarted by Maude P. Dilly (Jackie Hoffman)? The vocal teacher has been giving the suggestive dancer/wanna-be-actress vocal lessons and would rather the girl go to her dancing job wants the girl to go to work, rather than on a date with Gabey, so she can pay off her bill.

OK. I told you the plot was iffy….

There are some fun moments. The show opens with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem and the opening number features the delicious baritone of Phillip Boykin, who is totally underused in this production. Hoffman gets to play a number of comedic parts (much needed in this sleepy no plotter) and has them rolling in the aisles with her vocal warm-up. Fortunately Boritt gives the sets a sort of cartoonish feel so we never feel the show is taking itself too seriously. That’s good, especially when one of the dinosaurs at the museum starts to boogey….

All of the performances are good, but I kept thinking that if I had wanted to see ballet, I would have headed up to Lincoln Center (Fairchild, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, makes her Broadway debut as Ivy). I’d rather hear that rare, large orchestra playing some tunes to which a full chorus could sing (most of the numbers are largely orchestral with little singing) and tap dance (though Bernstein’s tunes here don’t really lend themselves). It’s nice to look at, but didn’t engage me much, especially with premise that presents women mostly as mannequins, beauty contest contestants and willing objects of lust.

On the Town pirouettes at the Lyric Theatre, 213West 42nd St., NYC (kind of ironic that an old-fashioned musical replaces the high-flying, modern tech wonder Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark which previously ran in this large house, then known as the  Foxwoods Theater). http://www.onthetownbroadway.com.

Christians might like to know:
-- Lord's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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