Thursday, 1 June 2017

Review On The Town

On The Town
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Revolving Doors

There's something thrilling about a chorus of enchanting voices floating up into the sultry air when twilight draws in at leafy Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. And with songs like Lonely Town, I'm So Lucky To Be Me and Some Other Time with its collective sigh, "Oh well", how can one resist this tale of the fleet and fleeting love?

It was adapted from wartime hit Fancy Free, a short ballet conceived and choreographed by Jerome Robbins with score by Leonard Bernstein - both 25 at the time - about three US Navy sailors on  shore leave who end up fighting amongst themselves for a date with a pair of young women.

A few months later and at the age of 26, Robbins and Bernstein had added a musical to their increasing list of successes with Betty Comden, just a year older, and Bernstein's flatmate Adolph Green, barely 30 years old, writing the book and lyrics.

Its origins in dance and wartime uncertainty give the show a particular ensemble and snatched pleasures' flavour with an open ending. The framework of  sailors whose first trip to New York will always be a transient one.

The departure as another ship with another crew draws into the harbour puts the three young men, Gabey (Danny Mac), Chip (Jacob Maynard, a last minute replacement for the injured Fred Haig) and Ozzie (Samuel Edwards) in the spotlight before they melt back into ranks of the Navy.
This is followed through as they descend into the subway to start sightseeing in the hell-uv-a town and encounter Miss Turnstiles - on a poster.  However, unknown to sailor Gabey who is smitten by the image, the publicity turnstiles turn every month to create another short- term subway seductress advertising the city's transport system.

Directed by choreographer Drew McOnie with Tom Deeering's musical direction,  there's plenty of storytelling through dance on Peter McKintosh's dockyard packing crate set (complete with traffic lights!) and with Vogue-style costumes of sparkling colours.

The sailors in the spirit of naval fraternity search for Gabey's Miss Turnstiles aka Ivy Smith (Siena Kelly), the Bronx ingénue in debt to her blowsy singing and dancing teacher Madame Dilly (Maggie Steed), Ozzie and Chip respectively encounter and pair off with a statuesque rapacious, nymphomaniac blue stocking (Miriam-Teak Lee) Claire De Loon and brassy blonde yellow cab driver Hildy Esterhazy (Lizzy Connolly).

With Comden and Green coming from the left-leaning revue nightclub scene, there is a revue structure to the show with plenty of in-jokes  about then current fads for anthropology and psychology and pastiches of opera and the experimental off Broadway theatre scene. 

So it's easy enough to classify it as a period piece with the bonus of luscious tunes and witty lyrics ("The Bronx is up and the Battery's down") and for modern tastes there may be longeurs. Yet this is a solid production and we would feel churlish in withholding a top rating because some of its cultural references feel dated.

The wit still shines and  audience are still whirled through the turnstiles into -  in the words of So Lucky To Be Me - what a day. It's a green light for landlocked romance in a love letter to New York  amid the greenery and birdsong of Regent's Park. . 

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