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BWW Review: Lyric Stage Company: It's a Helluva ON THE TOWN

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On the Town

Music by Leonard Bernstein, Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Based on an idea by Jerome Robbins; Directed and Staged by Spiro Veloudos; Music Director, Jonathan Goldberg; Choreography & Musical Staging by Ilyse Robbins; Scenic Design, Janie Howland; Costume Design, Kathleen Doyle; Lighting Design, Scott Clyve; Projection Design, Seághan McKay; Dialect Coach, Nina Zendejas; Production Stage Manager, Nerys Powell; Assistant Stage Manager, Marsha Smith

CAST: John Ambrosino, Sarah deLima, Michele A. DeLuca, Aimee Doherty, Zachary Eisenstat, Lauren Gemelli, Ilyse Robbins, Phil Tayler, J.T. Turner; Ensemble: Pim van Amerongen, Rishi Basu, Cameron Benda, Kayla Bryan, Lisa Dempsey, Christina English, Caleb Dane Horst, Lenni Kmiec, Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Daniel Forest Sullivan, Jeremy Towle, Ceit M. Zweil

Performances through June 8 at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-585-5678 or www.lyricstage.com

All hail the conquering heroes, the triumphant triumvirate of Spiro Veloudos, Ilyse Robbins, and Jonathan Goldberg. This talented trio pulls out all the stops in the Lyric Stage Company's season-ending production of On the Town and it's a helluva show. The first musical theatre piece by collaborators Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jerome Robbins in 1944 was uplifting and exuberant, and Veloudos and company recreate the joyfulness, innocence, and optimism of Three Sailors hoping to experience a boatload of thrills in just one day.

There's a boatload of thrills to be had from the twenty-one (they deserve a salute) member cast, starting with the boys in white: John Ambrosino (Gabey), Zachary Eisenstat (Ozzie), and Phil Tayler (Chip). Ambrosino visually brings to mind the young Frank Sinatra and his voice has a lovely quality that lets you feel his loneliness ("Lonely Town") and his good fortune ("Lucky to Be Me"). He has an aw-shucks sincerity that shines through, especially when Gabey meets the poster girl of his dreams, Miss Turnstiles for June (Lauren Gemelli). Eisenstat is the most physical of the trio, wowing with a couple of hands-free back flips, and comfortable in Ozzie's wise guy skin. Tayler plays the wide-eyed innocent who wants to see all the sights, but he grows up fast once he gets taken for a ride by Hildy (Michele A. DeLuca). The chemistry among the three is genuine and they make a believable band of brothers as they navigate the streets and subways of New York.

The leading women all give incredibly strong performances. New York-based Norwell native Gemelli, making her Lyric Stage debut, is an impressive dancer with beautiful posture and long legs that kick sky high. DeLuca's taxi driving, man-eating Hildy has an undertone of Rhoda Morganstern (ironic, since Rhoda's TV mom Nancy Walker originated the role), but she makes the character her own with wry, comic flair, and she can belt. The role of uptight anthropologist Claire highlights Aimee Doherty's considerable musical comedy chops. Bespectacled and wearing her hair atop her head, she is a throwback to all those smart dames of the '40s stage and screen who camouflaged their sexiness to be taken seriously. Doherty is in fine voice and is a hoot, to boot.

In supporting roles, J.T. Turner (Pitkin) is "understanding" and droll, and Sarah deLima (Maude P. Dilly) is deliciously dippy. Not resting on her considerable laurels after choreographing the show, Robbins is also onstage as Hildy's drippy roommate Lucy Schmeeler, as well as a dancer in the ensemble. The balletic, jazz-infused choreography is expertly displayed by chorus boys Jeremy Towle, Cameron Benda, Pim van Amerongen, Caleb Dane Horst, and Daniel Forest Sullivan, each of whom also portrays sailors, waiters, or cavemen. The capable multi-taskers on the distaff side include Kayla Bryan, Lisa Dempsey, Christina English, Lenni Kmiec, and Ceit M. Zweil.

With the exception of the six principals, everyone plays multiple roles and manages numerous costume changes. Basso Rishi Basu opens the show as one of the workers sleepily punching in at 6 a.m., his rich voice portending wonderful things to come. He turns up a few more times as Master of Ceremonies, sporting a variety of mustaches and colorful attire. Maurice Emmanuel Parent transforms from worker to soporific museum lecturer to soldier, dancing a moving Pas de Deux with Bryan as the latter. Kathleen Doyle thinks of costume design as character design and it shows in Hildy's loud blouse and slacks, Claire's tightly tailored suit, and Miss Dilly's multi-hued Bohemian garb. Hairstyles on the men and women, as well as make-up, also reflect the period.

Once again, Director Veloudos finds the most effective and efficient way to produce his vision on the postage stamp they call a stage at Lyric. The design gestalt of Janie Howland's set, Scott Clyve's lighting, and projections by Seághan McKay makes the most of a simple street scene with a skyline background. With understated scenes projected on them, nondescript gray cutouts become uptown, downtown, Times Square, the interior of a nightclub, a Manhattan street grid, and many more locales. Passing blocks of rectangular light and the sound of train wheels clacking put the sailors on a subway car. Hildy's taxi and apartment, the Museum of Natural History, and the nightclubs are realized by minimal set pieces, and recruiting posters on the walls flanking the stage evoke the time when the war was part of everyone's experience.

On the Town is an integrated musical, one in which the fusion of the songs, dances, and dialogue result in a whole that is not so much greater than the sum of its parts, but which would not exist without all three. By the same token, it is the cohesiveness of Veloudos, Robbins, and Goldberg, long-time collaborators, which results in this sparkling production. While some echoes from the book can be heard in our time, the world and our wars are very different some seven decades later. To truly appreciate this old chestnut, perhaps it is best to let go of today's reality, lapse into a 1940s sensibility (the last "good" war?), and be transported on a wave of nostalgia and great music.

Photo credit: Mark S. Howard (Zachary Eisenstat, Aimee Doherty, John Ambrosino, Michele A. DeLuca, Phil Tayler)


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