Thursday 13 November 2014

On The Town - Review

Lyric Theatre, Broadway


Music by Leonard Bernstein
Book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Based on an idea by Jerome Robbins
Directed by John Rando

l-r Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony Yazbeck and Clyde Alves

On The Town is a classic Broadway show and under John Rando's direction and Joshua Bergasse's inspired choreography, this whimsical tale of three sailors on 24 hours’ New York shore leave makes for flawless musical theatre.

Where to start? Under James Moore's baton, Leonard Bernstein's sumptuously symphonic score is perfectly performed by a 30+ band, deliciously heavy on strings and brass, making for the largest orchestra to be found on Broadway. The show's staging is ingeniously simple, with Beowulf Boritt's projections creating a careering cab as convincingly as Coney Island.

But it is the brilliant performances on stage that define this production as one of the greats. Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Clyde Alves are the love-seeking seamen, with Yazbeck's Gabey demonstrating how beautifully this actor has settled into the role, have played it since early workshop runs. His Lonely Town is a spine-tingling take on the timeless number.

The show famously revolves around Gabey's search for Ivy Smith or “Miss Turnstiles” a former beauty queen of the NY subway. Megan Fairchild is Smith and her ballet is just jaw-dropping. Bergasse precisely sculpts her fine movement, making it impossible to look elsewhere as she glides through her routines. Her introductory song, the Presentation Of Miss Turnstiles, only reinforces the quality of this production’s dance-work.

Gabey's two pals provide much of the perfectly timed comedy of the night. Johnson's virginal Chip, is devoured by Alysha Umphress' taxi driving Hildy. Umphress re-defines "maneater" and the couple's duet Come Up To My Place, sung as her cab improbably screeches through New York, is just the most  inspired stagecraft. The final coupling of the show, Alves' Ozzie who incongruously pairs up with Elisabeth Stanley's perfect creation of repressed society lady Claire, make for another union of faultless dance and vocal work. Their big number, Carried Away complete with dancing dinosaur, is a hoot.

The show drips genius. In supporting roles, Jackie Hoffman as Smith’s drunk and incompetent singing teacher Maude P Dilly (along with some choice cameo appearances later in act 2) is all that a buffoon-like baddy should be, whilst Michael Rupert as Pitkin, Claire’s much cheated upon fiancĂ© brings just the right amount of affronted bombast to another deliciously implausible creation. Elsewhere, popping up in numerous tiny roles is Phillip Boykin’s perfectly booming baritone. Boykin has only just wowed London as Crown in the Open Air Theatre’s Porgy and Bess, so as a visiting Brit in New York it is a true joy to re-encounter this gifted performer.

Who can say if On The Town will transfer across the Atlantic? London deserves it, though truth be told a show that is such a fabled New York fantasy will simply never be bettered than when it plays, to perfection, on Broadway. Go cash in your air miles, stowaway on a ship, or paddle across the Pond if you have to. This is song and dance at its very best – A Helluva Show!

Now booking until 2015

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