BWW Reviews: ON THE TOWN at Broadway's Lyric Theater Is a Delight from Start to Finish
The most recent revival of "On the Town", the 1944 smash hit based on Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free" ballet about three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in NYC, is first-rate on all counts. Right from the moment that the booming bass-baritone voice of Phillip Boykin joins the audience singing "The Star Spangled Banner" as he strolls down an aisle, the show captivates with professionalism and energy that are sustained throughout the evening.
The original production launched the legendary Broadway careers of composer Leonard Bernstein, the writing team of Betty Comden and Adolf Green, and Robbins. Yet Joshua Bergasse, the Emmy-award winning choreographer for the 2014 iteration, more than rose to the occasion of following in such iconic footsteps. From the jazzy numbers punctuated with pigeon wing steps for the sailors to the richly romantic balletic sequences, all of the dance scenes are among the best I've ever seen on the Broadway boards.
A great deal of the credit for that result goes to Bergasse, but the dancers deserve kudos as well. Chief among them is Megan Fairchild, the New York City Ballet principal dancer who is making her Broadway debut in the role of Ivy Smith. Except for a sweet scene in which she does some pointe work as a ballet student at Carnegie Hall, she proves herself to be more than capable of styles beyond her usual comfort zone of classical and neo-classical ballet. She also turns out to be a good little actress even though she's used to performing mime instead of delivering lines. She pretty much holds her own vocally as well. Her character, the winner of the "Miss Turnstiles" contest that is modeled on the actual "Miss Subways" contest dating from the 1940s, is taking singing lessons so that does give her a bit of a break Even so, she did just fine.
The singing sensation in the cast, however, is Alysha Umphress as the seductively saucy taxi driver. She has an impressive vocal range and glorious timbre. Not only that, but she is a splendid actress who moves well. I caught snatches of conversations during intermission that definitely confirmed my opinion!
As for the three sailors, they all projected just the right amount of youthful yearning in their quest to cram as much sight-seeing as possible into one day while also setting out to find romance. Tony Yazbeck in the lead role of Gabey was particularly appealing.
Special mention to the laugh-out-loud funny Jackie Hoffman as both the Little Old Lady and Maude P. Dilly, the tipsy voice teacher. In addition, I was charmed by a note in the Playbill that said, "Our production features a glamorized depiction of cigarette smoking, which was common in the 1940s. However, our cast members are using electronic cigarettes that emit harmless vapor. In the real world, smoking is hazardous to your health and is not glamorous, and we do not recommend it to anyone." Notwithstanding the current controversy about whether vaping actually is harmless, the explanation regarding historical context was welcome.
Finally, the Playbill note ends with this: "We do, however, recommend racing around the city that never sleeps and looking for love. Some things never go out of style." That certainly goes for this show, now seven decades old but as fresh and heartwarming as ever. On the evening of October 22nd when I saw "On the Town", a chill rain could not dampen the spirits of the theatergoers, many of whom emerged from the Lyric into a soggy Times Square singing "New York, New York, it's a helluva town!" Indeed it is.