Marriott has a fine day 'On the Town'
It took 70 years, but "On The Town" -- the 1944 Broadway musical about a trio of sailors on a 24-hour shore leave -- has finally arrived.
Typically, Chicago audiences don't have to wait seven decades for a regional premiere of a hit show like "On The Town," which closed in 1946 after 462 performances on Broadway (A revival is slated for October). But "On The Town," with its breezy, jazzy score by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is not a typical musical. It evolved from "Fancy Free," a ballet choreographed by Jerome Robbins and set to a Bernstein score. Those roots are reflected in the dance-heavy show, which features several noteworthy extended ballet sequences.
The first Chicago-area production of the rarely staged show comes courtesy of Lincolnshire's Marriott Theatre, whose magnificently danced revival benefits from Alex Sanchez's glorious choreography. Balletic, physical and a bit sexy, it's one of the best reasons to see director David H. Bell's production, which also features Nancy Missimi's pretty jewel-tone costumes.
Bernstein's score has its charms. The irresistible opening number "New York, New York" is an ebullient tribute to the Big Apple. The wistful "Some Other Time" -- the penultimate song beautifully sung by Johanna McKenzie Miller -- is a bittersweet reflection on the lovely moments Bernstein's lovers will likely never share. In between are several musical interludes ("Lonely Town," "Times Square Ballet") where Sanchez's choreography makes clear the desire that mere lyrics cannot.
As for the story, this one is pure fluff. But thanks to its aggressive, independent female characters and its subtle sexual innuendo, it's also a bit ahead of its time. Frankly, I found that to be one of its charms.
Set in 1944, the story centers on a trio of red-blooded, all-American sailors -- played by New York imports Max Clayton, Seth Danner and Jeff Smith -- who have one day to spend in New York City. First order of business: get dates for the day. Gabe (Clayton) fixates on subway sweetie Miss Turnstiles, an aspiring actress named Ivy Smith (Alison Jantzie), whose photo he sees in a brochure. While he scours the city in search of Ivy, Ozzie (Smith) spends time with anthropologist Claire (Miller), whose interest in him goes way beyond his resemblance to the Neanderthals she studies. Meanwhile, Chip (Danner) encounters a lusty cabdriver named Hildy (the terrific Marya Grandy, a fine comic actress with an impressive set of pipes), who tries to convince him to forget about sightseeing and come up to her place instead.
After a series of misadventures involving Ivy's boozy voice teacher (Barbara Robertson), Claire's milquetoast fiance (Alex Goodrich) and Hildy's sniffling roommate (the funny Brandi Wooten), the couples end up together on Coney Island. Of course they do. Where else could they end up but an amusement park?
For them the day has been a free pass: 24 hours of romance without consequences. There's plenty of flirting, dancing and kissing. But no one talks about engagement, marriage or the future. At the end of the day, the women go back to their lives and the sailors go back to their ship, which will eventually take them back to the war.
Maybe they will meet up again sometime. Maybe not. But they've had a great day. Maybe that's enough.