In today’s Wall Street Journal I write with unrestrained enthusiasm about the new Broadway revival of On the Town. Here’s an excerpt.
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When did you last see a big-budget musical that made you want to shout with joy? If you’ve been feeling anxious about the lukewarm state of American musical comedy, get ready to get hot again: The new Broadway revival of “On the Town” is everything a great show should be.
“On the Town,” in which Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jerome Robbins tell the tale of three wide-eyed sailors with just 24 hours to see New York for the first time, came to Broadway for the first time in 1944 and instantaneously made stars out of its prodigious creators (their average age on opening night was 27). But MGM botched the 1949 film version by scrapping most of Bernstein’s brash, bittersweet music, and “On the Town,” in part for that reason, has never had a commercially successful Broadway revival. As a result, it’s not nearly as well known as the other major musicals of the ‘40s and ‘50s, meaning that Masschusetts’ Barrington Stage Company has taken a huge risk by transferring its 2013 revival to New York. Will it buck the odds and become a hit? I’m no producer, but anyone who isn’t thrilled by this tinglingly well-staged production needs a heart transplant.
Of all the key shows from the golden age of American musical comedy, “On the Town” most successfully blended frivolous ends with sophisticated means. Bernstein himself said that “the subject matter was light, but the subject was serious,” and for all the screwball silliness of its cotton-candy plot, no one who saw “On the Town” could possibly ignore the dark shadow that World War II cast across the stage: Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie (Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Clyde Alves) have only one day in which to find their true loves (Megan Fairchild, Alysha Umphress and Elizabeth Stanley) before they must sail off to war, and very possibly to their deaths….
“On the Town,” in short, is far more than a piece of fancy fluff, and while John Rando, the director, is a recognized master of comic timing who could make even “Long Day’s Journey into Night” funny, he never skimps on warmth….
Would that Robbins’ own dances had survived other than in fragments, but Joshua Bergasse’s brand-new choreography is so tinglingly imaginative that even dance buffs won’t stop to think twice about what might have been: Each step pulses with passionate life….
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Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for On the Town, shot on location in New York:
Eileen Farrell and Leonard Bernstein perform “Some Other Time,” from the score of On the Town, on PBS in 1987: