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FLASH FRIDAY: ON THE TOWN - A Helluva History!

Today we are turning our attention to the rapturously received Broadway revival of Golden Age classic ON THE TOWN.

New York, New York

One of the most memorable paeans to the Big Apple ever penned from a musical that rhapsodizes in Manhattan's majesties, "New York, New York" from ON THE TOWN is just about as big, brassy and Broadway as musical theatre gets. Yet, ON THE TOWN not only possesses a plethora of adorable songs, but also one of the most pleasing and pleasant entertainment packages ever presented on the Great White Way - dashing sailors, game dames, guffaw-inciting character turns, a witty book and some truly spectacular dance sequences, all outfitted with music by master composer Leonard Bernstein, featuring book and lyrics by the legendary team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. While "New York, New York" is undoubtedly the song that many audience members enter the theatre already intimately familiar with, over the course of the musical's two acts they are presented with a rich spate of sensational songs in a score bedecked with riches. Ranging from the mournful and melancholy "Some Other Time" to the roof-raising "I Can Cook, Too" to the moody "Lonely Town" to the showstopping earworm "Ya Got Me" and many more, the score for ON THE TOWN is overflowing with melody and inventiveness. Then, there is all of that utterly glorious dance music, too!

The history of ON THE TOWN is as uniquely compelling as the show itself. In 1944, legendary choreographer and director Jerome Robbins staged a ballet titled FANCY FREE for the American Ballet Theatre showcasing an original score by up-and-coming composer Leonard Bernstein. Stemming from the success of the presentation, set designer Oliver Smith and his business partner, Paul Feigay, propositioned the team about considering an expansion of the story - ostensibly focusing on a brief whirlwind tour of New York City over the course of a mere day and night as experienced by three sailors on leave - into a full-fledged stage musical enterprise. Soon after, iconic showman George Abbott was welcomed into the fold as director and Bernstein set out with the formidable team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green to create more than a dozen new songs - incidentally, utilizing virtually none of the music he had composed for FANCY FREE. Additionally, legendary movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer backed the show as co-producers, with the agreement being that they would present the eventual silver screen iteration of the property were it to prove to be a hit on Broadway. And, as history records, a hit it was.

Opening on December 28, 1944, ON THE TOWN went on to run nearly 500 performances in its original Broadway iteration, featuring direction by Abbott and choreography by Robbins. The original leads for the show included John Battles, Chip Alexander, Sono Osato and a memorable star-turn by caustic character actress and comedienne Nancy Walker, as well as Betty Comden and Adolph Green themselves. Besides exploring the many worlds of music represented in the score - jazz to Tin Pan Alley to international sounds (bossa nova and beyond), generous flourishes of classical music and even opera - the cast also reflected the innovative nature of the production, highlighted by performers of a wide range of ethnic representations, which was extremely rare for the time. Subsequently, the musical was revived in 1971 under the direction of Ron Field and boasted major Broadway leading ladies Donna McKechnie, Phyllis Newman and Bernadette Peters among its headliners, but it unfortunately failed to find and audience and closed in a few short weeks. Thirty years later, a millennial revival directed by George C. Wolfe did not fare much better.

Alternately, the 1949 MGM movie musical starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller, Betty Garrett and Vera-Ellen is now recognized as a classic, although it ports over only a meager handful of Bernstein's irreplaceable songs in favor of lesser, newly-composed tunes by MGM music man Roger Edens and also takes many liberties with the appealing, playful story as conjured up by the original team on Broadway. Nonetheless, this is the iteration of the musical many people know and love and at least it still contains "New York, New York", the undisputed home run hit song of the entire entertainment, whether onstage or onscreen.

Now, with the fresh and energized 2014 Broadway revival that opened this month directed by John Rando, audiences have a chance to revisit ON THE TOWN as it was originally intended and perhaps glean a glimpse into the Golden Days of Broadway, when composers like Leonard Bernstein churned out countless musical treasures, witty scenarists like Betty Comden and Adolph Green made it all look effortless, performers like Nancy Walker were one of a kind and master directors and choreographers like George Abbott and Jerome Robbins made masterpieces often - sometimes maybe even twice in the same season or calendar year.

Whether looking back or looking forward, ON THE TOWN is where it's at - and it's right where it belongs: back on Broadway.

Ya Got Me

So, now, let's take a look at some of the most memorable moments relating to ON THE TOWN from its 70-year history.

First up, take in the thrilling trailer for the new Broadway edition of ON THE TOWN for 2014.

See the talented cast of the new production take their bows on opening night.

After that, go behind the scenes of the new production with Megan Fairchild.

Hear the opening number from the original Broadway cast recording.

Next, go back to where it all began with this vintage newsreel footage of "I Can Cook, Too".

Check out Lea Delaria stopping the show opposite Jessie Tyler Ferguson.

Tyne Daly leads "Ya Got Me" at the Barbican Centre in 1992.

Betty Comden and Adolph Green introduce "New York, New York".

Plus, check out the trailer for the feature film version.

Don't miss Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin's "New York, New York" from the film.

Bernstein himself accompanies Eileen Farrell on score standout "Some Other Time".

Lastly, Bernstein conducts three dance selections from ON THE TOWN.

As a special bonus, see Donna Murphy's moving rendition of a ravishing cut song from the score.

What is your absolute favorite song associated with ON THE TOWN? Furthermore, what is your personal choice for the very best element of the vast entertainment that the show provides, even 70 years after its debut? With source material this strong, the perfect revival production can make it all glisten like silver - or sparkle like a particularly well spit-shined anchor of a ship.

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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)