Review Roundup: ON THE TOWN Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

By: Oct. 16, 2014
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The new Broadway revival of On The Town, directed by John Rando (Tony Award for Urinetown) and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse (Emmy Award winner for "Smash") officially opens tonight, October 16, 2014 at Broadway's Lyric Theatre.

The cast is led by Tony Yazbeck (Gypsy, A Chorus Line), Jay Armstrong Johnson (The New York Philharmonic's Sweeney Todd, Hands On A Hardbody, Hair), and Clyde Alves (Bullets Over Broadway, Nice Work If You Can Get It) as the sailors on 24-hour shore leave who take on the Big Apple; Megan Fairchild (New York City Ballet Principal Dancer), Alysha Umphress (American Idiot) and Elizabeth Stanley(Company) as the women who steal their hearts; and Jackie Hoffman (Hairspray, Xanadu) in the role of "Madame Dilly". Tony Award winner Michael Rupert (Legally Blonde: The Musical, Ragtime, Falsettos, Sweet Charity) plays "Judge Pitkin" alongside Allison Guinn (Hair) as "Lucy Schmeeler", Tony Award nominee Phillip Boykin (The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess) and Stephen DeRosa(Hairspray, The Nance, Into The Woods).

The Bronx is up, the Battery's down, and three sailors are hoping to get just a little bit lucky on their one day of leave in the Big Apple. From the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Coney Island to Times Square and Carnegie Hall, On The Town zigzags through New York City as the sailors and the three high-spirited young women they meet chase love, dreams, and each other during an unforgettable day in the city that never sleeps.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: ...this merry mating dance of a musical feels as fresh as first sunlight as it considers the urgent quest of three sailors to find girls and get, uh, lucky before their 24-hour shore leave is over. If there's a leer hovering over "On the Town," a seemingly limp 1944 artifact coaxed into pulsing new life by the director John Rando and the choreographer Joshua Bergasse, it's the leer of an angel...Mr. Rando...has a loving affinity for this material that dispels the scent of mothballs..."On the Town" has grown up quite nicely, thank you, with much of its original cast not only intact but also improved. Every element has been heightened in just the right way, a delicate achievement when you consider the heightening that's aspired to...What's surprising is how fluent the entire cast is in both the high and low languages they are required to speak...Throughout the show, which includes the dreamiest dream ballets I've seen in years, Mr. Bergasse...maintains this rare feeling of idiosyncrasy in harmony. Similarly, he's captured the Robbins spirit, but stamped it with his own vivid signature.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The webs have been swept away, the comic book villains are long gone and even the name of the theater has changed. So what better way to bid farewell to the doomed "Spider-Man" musical at the re-christened Lyric Theatre than with a pure American classic? An exuberant, dazzling revival of "On the Town" opened Thursday, filling Broadway's biggest theater with big, crowd-pleasing dance numbers, lavish and clever visuals and superb performances from a massive cast. It's simply a helluva show...The revival seems to have tapped into the youthful exuberance at the time of its creation -- Bernstein, Comden and Green were still in their 20s in 1944...Bergasse has hewed close to Jerome Robbins' original choreography and he's been blessed by dancers who make mincemeat of several pas-de-deux. Fairchild, a principal dancer at the prestigious New York City Ballet, makes her Broadway debut and is impossible to stop watching.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: John Rando, embraces both the strengths and weaknesses of the musical...Trying to modernize On the Town would make it seem hopelessly quaint. Rando (a 2002 Tony winner for Urinetown) instead is unapologetic in presenting the old-fashioned material at face value, playing even the silliest routines with a mostly light touch, and injecting the whole dizzy narrative with an air of yearning romance. He enlists the aid of choreographer Joshua Bergasse (NBC's Smash) to channel the expressive athleticism of Robbins' dances. The chief element retained from the director's earlier brush with the show is his winning lead Tony Yazbeck, a dependable Broadway yeoman who arguably has never been more ideally cast than as Gabey. Whether in dramatic scenes, songs or in his rapturous dance numbers, Yazbeck brings just the right balance of masculinity and vulnerability, unworldliness and floating-on-air grace to the openhearted farm boy dreaming of love. It's a star turn and yet seems so effortless it's almost self-effacing.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "On the Town" is back on Broadway, and whaddya know, it's still a helluva show. Helmer John Rando (who directed the musical at Barrington Stage last year) has given the kid-glove treatment to this 1944 musical salute to New York...Joshua Bergasse's choreography, classic in design and elegant in form, pays its respects to Jerome Robbins' groundbreaking choreography, and although the young and vital cast is light on acting chops, the dancing is sensational.

Linda Winer, Newsday: ...this just is a breezy, peppy, pleasantly libidinous valentine to New York-New York that respects Leonard Bernstein's jazzy brainy score with a lush 28-piece orchestra. The cast, except for Jackie Hoffman overdoing four comic cameos, doesn't hit the sly jokes by Betty Comden and Adolph Green too hard. And the big ensemble, led by the amiable if slightly bland Tony Yazbeck as sailor Gabey, makes the huge Lyric Theatre (Spider-Man's former home) feel almost homey...Joshua Bergasse, choreographer of NBC's "Smash" in his Broadway debut, defines characters persuasively in classic, jazz and comic movement and, though the two big ballet scenes don't build into more than serviceable pastiche, the dancers are attractive and strong..."On the Town" never was one of the great musicals or an urgently needed revival, but it needs a throat-catching sense of the world outside to make it more than diverting.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: On the Town itself, though frisky and enjoyable, does not have the strongest legs as a monument...As Ivy, the object of one sailor's infatuation, the splendid Megan Fairchild dances throughout with an elegant lightness unmatched elsewhere in the piece. But although it occasionally pushes too hard, John Rando's production inspires considerable affection. The three able-bodied seamen each get moments to show off their abilities (and their bodies), and their other two main squeezes (Alysha Umpress and Elizabeth Stanley) sing well; the supporting cast of zanies (including Allison Gunn, Stephen DeRosa, Philip Boykin and the always-ripe Jackie Hoffman) give the streets of New York a suitable complement of muggers. I suspect there will be people who love the torch-carrying spirit of this On the Town, and I wish them, and it, the best. To me, however, it seems a bit like a well-mounted exhibit at some Natural History Museum of Broadway: a stuffed lark.

Dave Quinn, NBC New York: Living in New York City, day in and day out, it's easy to forget the fun of experiencing it all for the first time. The wonder of looking up at the skyscrapers from the streets below. The excitement of being among the diversity of its residents. It's the sort of childlike discovery that makes even a crowded subway seem like a magical place. That unmitigated glee is alive and well at the Lyric Theatre, where the Broadway revival of the they-don't-make-'em-like-they-used-to musical "On the Town" is now open. Tony-winning director John Rando ("Urinetown") has embraced the classic tale...and staged a joyous production that'll make you want to fall in love with the city -- and musical theater -- all over again.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Three footloose sailors aren't the only ones who get lucky in "On the Town." The audience does, too. Director John Rando has assembled a great cast for this fizzy and frisky revival...Tracing a tale of World War II tars on leave in the big city, the production feels like a big, juicy kiss...The whole cast is excellent, but Yazbeck (center) is a standout. Rando ("Urinetown") mines the script for all its boisterous humor and smartly makes space for hushed interludes...Choreographer Joshua Bergasse keeps the fleet of agile and athletic dancers leaping, kicking and spinning like a top. The cast is top-to-bottom excellent. In sailor suits and stipped to their skivvies, Johnson and Alves are adorable and able-bodied. Umphress adds sass and brass as the go-for-it taxi driver, and Stanley is delicious as the oversexed scientist. Jackie Hoffman is a hoot-and-a-half playing a boozy voice teacher and a few more small's a helluva entertainment.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: The bell-bottomed boys traditionally dominate this show, but the brightest star in this new revival isn't one of them: It's Megan Fairchild, a New York City Ballet principal now making her Broadway debut. That she's graceful and strikes breathtakingly beautiful lines was a given. Which is good because Fairchild plays a key role in this dance-heavy musical -- originally choreographed by Jerome Robbins, now by Joshua Bergasse. But it turns out the elfin ballerina's also a nimble, effortlessly funny comedienne. The show explodes with unfettered joy every time she's onstage. When she's not, it's more complicated...Betty Comden and Adolph Green's book and lyrics still crackle and pop after all these decades, and therein lies the rub: The show's already written funny, so director John Rando's frantic oversell can feel a little desperate.

Jesse Green, Vulture: On the Town is a heartbreakingly youthful work: both about youth and by youth. Watching its three sailors pursue a lifetime of adventure while on 24-hour shore leave in New York, New York, you can't help sensing the shadows of the three giddy pals who knocked the show together in 1944...And yet here it is, 70 years later, in its third Broadway revival, as big and breakneck and beautiful as ever. As imperfect, too; the revival, like the original, triumphs over some insufferable missteps...Everything great in On the Town, including the dances, begins in his score, and flowers from it, in alternating colors of blue and brass...So it's a pleasure to report that the musical aspects of the revival...are first-rate...The huge stage allows more room for Joshua Bergasse's choreography, which bows but does not scrape to the Robbins originals and is often quite gorgeous, especially in the self-contained numbers.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Rando brings a whimsical irreverence to everything he directs, often with a healthy dollop of vulgarity, and for "On the Town" he doesn't stint on emphasizing the randiness of the New York City streets during World War II. And that's just the broads, as they say in the Navy!...Beowulf Boritt's set and projection designs are sparse yet expansive; they tantalize with the visual suggestion that the vast stage is always about to be filled with dancers, great dancers. The 1,800-seat Lyric Theatre is never kind to comedy; its cavernous space eats up the laughter, but Rando brings the action downstage and into the auditorium as often as possible, and as soon as the chorus breaks into dance the theater bursts with contagious energy. The new Lyric Theatre, something of a white elephant, works for the first time in its short history on 42nd Street...Whenever Comden and Green's book begins to sag, there's another great ballet, not to mention Bernstein's music, just waiting around the corner.

Steven Suskin, The Huffington Post: Playgoers who haven't walked away from a Broadway musical beaming since before they can remember should head over to Times Square for On The Town...The correct approach, it turns out, is to play down all those layers of camp and nostalgia and let Bernstein, Comden & Green speak for themselves...Director John Rando (Urinetown) and choreographer Joshua Bergasse (Smash) have precisely the right touch, milking every ounce of fun out of the material while treating it with respect. Bergasse is not quite the choreographer that Robbins was, naturally; but he does well in places and even better in others...Where this revival hits the jackpot is in the six leading players.

Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: A New York City Ballet principal, [Megan Fairchild] is known for her sparkling footwork. Here she displays unexpected comic finesse, especially in her voice-lesson scene with Madame Dilly, one of many cartoon roles mastered by Jackie Hoffman. If Fairchild's acting lacks projection, especially compared to the other two female leads -- Alysha Umphress as Hildy and Elizabeth Stanley as Claire -- she compensates during the dance numbers. The choreography, by Joshua Bergasse, is inspired, though Robbins would have cracked the whip harder on the ensemble during the door-slamming number. All three male leads blend sweetness with virility. Clyde Alves is a swaggering Ozzie, Jay Armstrong Johnson a pratfall-mastering Chip, and Tony Yazbeck a deservedly centre-stage Gabey.

Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: Director John Rando does an adroit job of blending dance and comedy, with the aid of a dynamic cast (that includes a pleasingly large chorus). Things do run aground, though, in the relatively short second act. While most stories speed up as they near a climax, "On the Town" slows way down, with a series of repetitive nightclub scenes - primarily excuses for specialty numbers - before Gabey and Ivy reunite for their final clinch.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Bergasse's routines, even at their most irresistibly dizzy, reflect Robbins' emphasis on storytelling and expression of character. This is especially crucial in the ballet sequences, showcases for Fairchild - and the hyper-talented Tony Yazbeck, who plays Gabey - that grow darker and more emotionally rich as the production spins toward its surprisingly unsettling, riveting climax and bittersweet conclusion. Beowulf Boritt's playful, imaginative scenic and projection design and Jason Lyons' vivid lighting deserve mention as well. The New York they create is mythical and old-fashioned but, like the flawed, yearning characters who sometimes wander among us, strangely familiar and accessible. Great musical theater doesn't require total escapism, after all, any more than unconditional happy endings.

Roma Torre, NY1: There's so much to love in "On The Town" it's easy to overlook its flaws, such things as plotting, characterization, logic. But I choose to view the show as a gloriously messy love letter to New York, gushing with gorgeous tunes, endearingly nutty characters and some of the loveliest dancing on Broadway. If it were just a concert, you'd still get your money's worth. Leonard Bernstein's magnificent score is richly enhanced with a 28-piece orchestra. And once that trio of hyped up sailors takes off on their 24-hour leave, New York does truly become "one helluva town."

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: You will note the total absence of grudging qualifications. That's because I haven't any: This show is that good. To be sure, "On the Town" is one of the Broadway musicals that I love best, and I've been hoping to see a strong New York revival ever since New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse gave it the deluxe treatment in 2009. That production could have worked on Broadway, too, but Barrington Stage's version was equally fine, and now that it's here, I urge you to see it as soon as you possibly can. With Broadway increasingly dominated by rubber-stamp commodity musicals, less familiar shows are a tough box-office sell, but "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" managed to ring the gong through sheer excellence last season. If there's any justice at all, so will "On the Town."

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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