I've decided I'm rather lacking in exposure to a lot of our "classic" musicals, think pre-1950's. I'm pretty well versed in the Rodgers & Hammerstien/Lerner & Lowe/Gershwin Brothers oeuvres but there are many more musicals/artists that I only know peripherally. So in an effort to beef-up my knowledge I decided to go see a musical about handsome strapping sailors dancing their way through New York City. smile.
On the Town, which originally open on Broadway in 1944, follows the misadventures of three sailors who have only 24 hours to make the most of the Big Apple. Our erstwhile heroes cling pretty closely to the archetypes of male friends: there's Gabey, the earnest one, Chip, the geeky one and Ozzie, the ladies man; you can pretty much tell their character traits by there names, right? Although, they all have the unlikely quality of be squeaky clean guys, for sailors. There really isn't much of a plot to the story, Gabey spots his true love on a subway poster "Miss Turnstiles" and is determined to find this paragon of talent and beauty so that they can...well I'm not sure what...maybe, live a life time in a day? Being good buddies Ozzie and Chip are willing to cast aside their own plans to help their friend and so they subdivide the isle of Manhattan to try and find her. Totally doable in one day! Of course in their travels both Ozzie and Chip manage to find love, or least readily available sex. It's actually a pretty high libido show despite it's overall veneer of earnest goodness.
This is a really well put together production and I really can't complain about anything, which I know does not come off as a ringing endorsement. This is one of those shows that equals the sum of it's parts, and when you have talented actors, fun music, great dancing and a shiny lucite New York City that is not at all a bad thing, it's an entirely enjoyable afternoon of theater. But I can't give it a rave; for me it did not reach the same level as the 2011 revival of Anything Goes, that show tipped over into something exceptional and has set the bar for what I expect for revivals from that era of musical theater. I did see this relatively early in previews so the performance may have still been a little underdone; certainly Mr. Brantley's recent review is a ringing endorsement, but tastes vary.
I did really enjoyed the dance numbers, and yes there are several dance numbers; I say that because that seemed to be the consensus of the audience members around me. "Yes I like it. There's a lot of dancing(with quizzically furred brows)" rather like they'd never seen dancing in a musical before. In all fairness the show was originally conceived of as a ballet by Jerome Robbins so it does have more than the usual numbers that are purely dance but frankly they were some of my favorite parts of the show. To cast Tony Yazback (as Gabey) in a show and not have him dance would be incredibly wrong. All three of the main actors, Tony Yazback, Clyde Alves (Ozzie) and Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip), were excellent, fun to watch and had great chemistry on stage. Of their lady loves, Ivy, aka Miss Turnstiles, Hildy, the cabbie, and Claire, the apparent nymphomaniac, it was Alysha Umphress whose attempts to seduce Chip really get's you attention. It's not just the guys who are looking to bet a little something-something in this show. She put a lot of jazzy Umph in her two main numbers, "Come Up to My Place" and "I Can Cook Too," and the only one of the female characters I actually liked. Claire was just kind of annoying and Ivy had about as much depth as her poster. Granted none of these characters are meant to have depth.
After the show you leave humming that damn earworm "New York New York" which was not entirely inappropriate as I crossed Times Square. I did have the thought as I listened to the lyrics of the song that, it is only the manner in which the song is sung that keeps it from being taken ironically. I wonder if anyone has every tried to sing this song satirically. Read some of the the lyrics:
New York, New York, a helluva town. (mhmmm...yep...helluv a own I tell ya')
The Bronx is up, but the Battery's down.
The people ride in a hole in the groun'. (hole in the ground is not an unapt description for some subway stops)
New York, New York, it's a helluva town!
New York, New York, a visitor's place,
Where no one lives on account of the pace, (well gee that's positive imagery)
But seven millions are screaming for space. (and not inaccurate)
New York, New York, it's a visitor's place!
Manhattan women are dressed in silk and satin,
Or so the fellas say; (no exaggeration there!)
There has to be someone out there who can turn this on its head right?