BWW Reviews: ON THE TOWN at SeattleÂ's 5th Avenue Theatre
The 5th Avenue Theatre in conjunction with Spectrum Dance Theater is currently presenting the Leonard Bernstein classic "On the Town" as part of the Seattle Celebrates Bernstein event. With book and lyrics by the incomparable Betty Comden and Adolph Green (who by the way were also the original Ozzie and Claire in the show on Broadway in 1944), it's a superb throw back to the Golden Age of American Musicals. And while there are a few spots that need a little tightening, the show is goofy, whimsical, and just plain fun with a ton of heart! And this is definitely a big old style musical from the opening trill of the overture to the last leap off stage.
The story, set in 1944, follows Three Sailors, Gabey (Joe Aaron Reid), Ozzie (Greg McCormick Allen) and Chip (Matt Owen) as they navigate the wilds of New York City during their 24 hour shore leave. And, of course, in true musical theater style, each of them has found a girl. Ozzie finds or is rather found by Anthropologist Claire DeLoone (ya gotta love these names) who finds Ozzie to be the perfect "specimen" in her study of Neanderthals. Chip is picked up (literally) by cab driver Hildy Esterhazy (possibly my favorite name ever) as he is trying to see the sights of New York. But Hildy only wants to show him her sights. And Gabey falls for Ivy Smith, the newly crowned Miss Turnstile, from a picture of her on the Subway and vows to find her and take her out before his leave is over.
This ensemble cast has chemistry for days. Reid is basically the kind of actor the term "triple threat" was invented for. He has one of the smoothest voices out there, his dancing could match any of the Spectrum dancers on the stage with him, and his lovelorn Gabey was heartbreaking. One of the most beautiful moments of the show came from the "Imaginary Coney Island Ballet" between him and Ivy, gorgeously played by Courtney Iventosch. The dance was a story unto itself (which was Bernstein and originator Jerome Robbins' idea for the show to begin with). They manage to go from silly to gritty to darkly powerful in the span of a few minutes of dance. Owen is adorable as the wide eyed Chip and is matched perfectly by the street wise Hildy (hysterically played by the amazing Sarah Rudinoff). Their renditions of "Come Up to My Place" and "I Can Cook Too" practically stopped the show. And my personal favorites were Allen as Ozzie and the always stunning Billie Wildrick. Allen, who I always think looks like he stepped right out of the 1940's and Wildrick who really got to show off her comedic chops in this role were fun, lively and engaging and their "Carried Away" with the "Primitive Men" in the Museum of Natural History carried me away.
And as wonderful as the couples were, I have to give a special shout out for two glorious supporting turns. Allen Fitzpatrick was hilarious as Claire's too-too understanding fiancée Judge Pitkin W. Bridgework (oh those names). And the always over the top Richard Gray stole every scene he was in for the 9 characters he played throughout the show.
And while most of the dance from choreographer Bob Richard and the Spectrum dancers was fantastic and really told the story of this bustling city, I felt some of it got a bit repetitive and superfluous. Plus, the 5th Avenue needs to be careful as they are tending to fall into the trap of over producing their shows. While the city backdrop was lovely, the moving and overly lit buildings tended to just get in the way of the story. Just because you have the budget to do something doesn't always mean you should.
And while I felt the ends of the two acts left me a little wanting and beyond those few hiccups, the show is a blast and the 5th Avenue has a perfect recipe to chase all your blues away. Take these madcap characters, add the soaring Bernstein score and book and lyrics from Comden and Green and stir it all up with the legs of some outstanding dancers and it's a helluva night!
"On the Town" plays at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre through May 2nd. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or 888-5TH-4TIX (888-584-4849) or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.