On the Town has just opened on Broadway, and it’s clear that the Lyric Theatre on West 42nd Street is the place to be for what the critics are calling “a helluva show”.
“An exuberant, dazzling revival … with big, crowd-pleasing dance numbers, lavish and clever visuals and superb performances from a massive cast”, says Associated Press. “Takes your breath away – as fresh as first sunlight” writes The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal refers to it as “Everything a great show should be”, the Daily News describes the revival of this American classic as “a love song to New York City with a great cast, classic score by Leonard Bernstein and wonderful dancing”, while NBC New York calls it “a joyous production that’ll make you want to fall in love with the city — and musical theater — all over again”.
Convinced? It seems you should be, for not only was the original 1944 production created by the combined brilliance of Leonard Bernstein (music) and Jerome Robbins (choreography), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, but for this production, director John Rando (Tony Award® for Urinetown) has assembled a cast and creative team with a wealth of awards and accolades between them.
The three sailors are played by Tony Yazbeck (Gypsy, A Chorus Line), Jay Armstrong Johnson (The New York Philharmonic’s Sweeney Todd, Hands On A Hardbody, Hair), and Clyde Alves (Bullets Over Broadway, Nice Work If You Can Get It).
Megan Fairchild (Principal Dancer at New York City Ballet, making her musical comedy debut), Alysha Umphress (American Idiot) and Elizabeth Stanley (Company) are the women who steal their hearts, and Jackie Hoffman (Hairspray, Xanadu) takes the role of Madame Dilly.
Scenic design and projection is by Tony Award® winner Beowulf Boritt (Act One, Chaplin, Rock of Ages), lighting by Drama Desk nominee Jason Lyons (Bring it On, Rock of Ages), costumes by Tony Award® winner Jess Goldstein (Newsies, Jersey Boys, The Rivals), sound by Tony® nominee Kai Harada (Follies, Million Dollar Quartet), and hair and makeup by Leah Loukas (A Night with Janis Joplin, Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike). The producers are Howard & Janet Kagan (Pippin, The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess).
The score of On the Town features standards such as New York, New York, I Can Cook Too, Lonely Town, and Some Other Time – played in this production with their original orchestrations, and performed by the largest orchestra on Broadway – 28 musicians led by musical director James Moore (Follies, Ragtime).
On the Town is based on Jerome Robbins’ 1944 ballet, Fancy Free, which he choreographed for American Ballet Theatre to a score by Leonard Bernstein. It tells of three young sailors on 24 hours’ shore leave in New York, eager to experience everything that the big city has to offer – while (as Robbins said) “hanging over them all the time is this war, this catastropohic fierceness going on”, * to which they know they’ll need to return when they ship out of Brooklyn Navy Yard the following day.
The musical opened at Broadway’s Adelphi Theater later that year, directed by George Abbott, and it played through February 2, 1946, for a total of 462 performances, transferring to the 44th Street Theatre and Martin Beck Theatre along the way.
Designer Oliver Smith was quoted as saying that On the Town “wasn’t about three sailors, it was about the enormous love each of us felt for New York … the place where anything could happen, where two cabaret comics [Betty Comden and Adolphe Green] could write a Broadway show, where a musical arranger [Leonard Bernstein] could conduct the New York Philharmonic, where a corset-cutter’s son from Weehawken [Jerome Robbins] could metamorphose from chorus boy to choreographer” * – which probably tells you all you need to know about why the show has a special place in the heart of the city.
On the Town is playing at Broadway’s Lyric Theatre (213 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com, and more information can be found by visiting
All photographs © Joan Marcus
* Source: Somewhere – The Life of Jerome Robbins by Amanda Vaill