Back to show

Critic’s Choice: ‘On the Town’ makes a welcome appearance

The 1944 classic Broadway hit musical comedy “On the Town” is now onstage at Marriott Theatre in what’s regarded as its first major Chicago-area production.

And it’s about time!

Too long neglected, this lively dance-driven production comes with an exceptional musical score by Leonard Bernstein, then an unknown young artist, and remarkable book and lyrics by other emerging talents Betty Camden and Adolph Green.

Based on Jerome Robbins’ "Fancy Free" ballet, “On the Town” follows the lives of three sailors – Gabey, Chip and Ozzie (Max Clayton, Seth Danner and Jeff Smith, respectively) – visiting New York City for the first time and ready for adventure and determined to make the most of their 24-hour shore leave.

Except for “Some Other Time,” a song that comes late in Act II, the intrusive realities of World War II remain in the background. Otherwise, the sailors don’t dwell on the situation, though audiences understand their eagerness to escape its reality, however briefly, as they use their whirlwind furlough to see the sights and seek out romance.

“On the Town” is known for classic hit songs “New York, New York,” “Lonely Town” and “I Can Cook Too.”

The three, whose previous travel experiences were limited to farming communities and small towns like Peoria, find themselves awestruck by the size and fast pace of Manhattan. A subway flier promoting Ivy Smith, the reigning “Miss Turnstiles” of the month, is all it takes for each sailor to sets his heart on finding this dream girl who is hyped as a big supporter of soldiers and sailors, a fan of tennis, polo, poetry, painting and the jitterbug in addition to one who possesses homemaking skills beyond reproach.

By the play’s end the lads connect with Ivy (Alison Jantzie) and two other would-be “Miss Turnstiles”: Hildy (Marya Grandy, hilarious as a sex-starved cabbie) and Claire (Johanna McKenzie Miller, an anthropologist ready for a real-life adventure).

Other key performers include Barbara Robertson, as Madame Dilly, a wacky vocal teacher; Alex Goodrich as Pitkin, Claire’s ever-so-understanding fiancé; and Brandi Wooten in a nice comic turn as Lucy, Claire’s ditzy roommate. A fleet-footed 15-member ensemble backs up the company every step of the way.

This superb production is directed by David H. Bell with inventive choreography by Alex Sanchez and music direction by Ryan T. Nelson.

Also credit Nancy Missimi for outstanding costumes, including period outfits and caveman garb in an uproarious diorama; Thomas Ryan, set design; Jesse Klug, lighting; Robert Gilmartin, sound; and Sally Weiss, properties.