Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony
Yazbeck and Clyde Alves photos by Joan Marcus
by Eugene Paul
Lyric Theatre, once again the Lyric Theatre after having been through several
other incarnations since it grew bigger and more beautiful, is launching its
now British ownership with the best, sweetest version of that very American
delight, On The Town, also bigger and more beautiful, wiser and wittier,
funnier and more affectionately satisfying than ever before. Leonard
Bernstein’s sparkling score buoys Jerome Robbins’ happy concept to effervescent
heights and the book and lyrics by theatre mavens Betty Comden and Adolf Green
have been perked to new joy. It’s a wowser of a show.
right off the bat, to get us in the right frame of mind, conductor James Moore
leads his rousing twenty-eight piece orchestra in a rising “Star
Spangled Banner” which is sung full throat by us, all of the two
thousand audience, in an astonishing – and touching – renewal of who we are.
the great flag curtain lifts, it’s three minutes to 6 AM at the Navy Yard and
magnificent Philip Boykin in glorious voice, sings “I Feel Like I’m Not Out of
Bed Yet”, an absolute Bernstein delight – and we’re off. Those three sailors,
Ozzie (Clyde Alves) Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Gabey (Tony Yazbek) burst
out, on 24 hour 1944 war time leave, to do all of New York City in one very
full day: “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town, the Bronx is up and the
Battery’s down, the people ride in a hole in the ground, New York, New York,
it’s a helluva own!” Ain’t it the truth.
sees a poster of ‘Miss Turnstiles”, falls like a ton of bricks for her, Miss
Ivy Smith (Megan Fairchild), steals her subway picture and the chase is on.
Not only do the three of them have to do all the sights that Chip has ticked
off in his father’s 1930 listing of places to see and do, they have to find
Ivy, Miss Turnstiles and evade the pursuing police egged on by a righteous
Little Old Lady (Jackie Hoffman). Of course, Ozzie and Chip must also find
their own dates – these sailors gotta get lucky – so it’s a busy schedule laid
on, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Jerome Robbins developed a series of ballet episodes which Comden and Green
interspersed with lowdown wackiness; blending them took infinite skills. The
merges sometimes came up with real integration challenges but bless director
John Rando. He has made all one, a romp of nonsense chases and romances, funny
and endearing, nostalgic, beautiful, and nuts, in huge measure thanks to
choreographer Joshua Bergasse who has beguiled the Robbins ballets right into
the pull of the overall story line but kept them electric, beautiful and sexy.
It’s the difference between admiring them and being swept up in them. This
evocation of On the Town captures us.
Rando’s endless witty flourishes come at us from a charged company that has
taken full possession of the whole show and delivers it to us proudly, with
gusto. Star turns are not stand alone but part of the whole show. In their
version, Frank Sinatra is fine, Gene Kelly is fine, Ann Miller is fine but
they’re no better than the wonderful players of this company. (Where do they
find all these triple threat people, with looks, voices and dancing gifts?)
(True, there is Jackie Hoffman who sticks out like a sore thumb but what the
hell, there’s always somebody who likes her shtik and Rando still has control
of her antics.) (Well, almost.)
Megan Fairchild as Ivy is enchantment, yet part of the whole picture, Alysha
Umphress as Chip’s sex mad cab driver, Hildy, is grinningly improper, sings,
dances, right in the picture and Elizabeth Stanley, as svelte Claire DeLoon who
gets haplessly undone – and done –by Ozzie is a broad delight, sings, dances,
and very right in the picture. Of the three, iconic sailor Ozzie, Clyde Alves,
Mr. Knock-‘Em-Dead, sings, dances as if to the manner born, a great pleasure.
Jay Armstrong Johnson, sailor Chip, the country boy with the guide book to New
York heaven, sings, dances and defends his honor to the last drop, then happily
drops. He’s fun. But it is Tony Yazbek, big innocent Gabey, who soars. His
dancing sweeps from wicked, good natured knockabout to yearning beautiful tone
poem with lovely Megan Fairchild and his singing “Lonely Town” hurts so nice it
stops the show. Truly triple threat.
Boritt has designed setting and projection impressions of the 1940’s Big Apple
which wrap hand in hand with Jess Goldstein’s colorful costumes. Josh Lyons’
lighting and Kai Harads’s sound design are woven by director Rando into the
fabric of a hit with this great, giving company in a show that runs the gamut
from raunchy funny to truly poetic. Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins are
deliciously, deliriously alive.
The Town. At
the Lyric Theatre, 213 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $35-$160.
800-250-2929 or ticketmaster.com. 2hrs, 30 min.