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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

December 9, 1998. All rights reserved.

New York Review: `On The Town’

What happened to "On The Town?" What happened

to the freshness, the excitement, and the invention that director

George C. Wolfe brought to the revival of the landmark 1944 musical

when it was presented by the Public Theater’s New York Shakespeare

Festival, under the stars in Central Park, in the summer of ’97? What

appeared at that time to be an inspired and exuberant staging of the

New York-set musical is now, in its long-delayed and reconsidered

production on Broadway, a real let down.

Certainly Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s giddy and witty book hasn’t

suddenly lost its arcane charm in recent months. And Leonard

Bernstein’s

sophisticated score actually becomes more wonderful with the passing

of time. Although there has been some recasting of some roles, the

current, mostly youthful, multi-racial cast is full of vitality. So

what’s wrong?

It isn’t news that the show’s original choreographer Jerome Robbins

was a visionary, a master of his art who brilliantly conceived the

dance-driven show from his ballet "Fancy Free." Wolfe wanted

to give Robbins’ audacious fantasy of three sailors on a one-day leave

a contemporary propellant. So he hired Eliot Feld, an admired and

creative modern choreographer, to put an entirely new spin on the

movement and attitudes of the mid 1940s.

The beauty of "On The Town" in Central Park, was that no one

seemed to be out to fill the shoes of a predecessor. Sure the show

is dated, but Wolfe seemed to be saying he wanted to embrace the

show’s

inherent nostalgia in a more contemporary frame. Under Wolfe’s

direction,

a show that was once notable for its nerve and verve, is now labored

and unfocused.

In the summer of ’97, the Bronx was up and the Battery definitely

charged with Feld’s extraordinarily liquid and dream-like choreography

and his excellent dancers. Although they leapt, soared, glided, and

spun their way from a frantic Coney Island to a fanciful Central Park,

the dancers’ bold body language appeared, to many critics, as being

too far afield from the kind of Broadway style so memorably created

by Robbins. The critics’ hostility to what I felt was Feld’s

rapturously

effective effort was such that Wolfe delayed the proposed Broadway

transfer. He considered a series of choreographers before settling

on Keith Young, a young, West Coast choreographer, making his Broadway

debut.

Only days before the opening, another choreographer,

Joey McKneely, was called in, presumably to polish and tighten Young’s

work. What a disaster! There is no denying that "New York, New

York, is a helluva town," and that a couple of the original

show-stopping

performers are on hand. But the dancing is the all-purpose generic

kind you can see opening a typical TV awards or variety show. That

there is so much of it only serves to grind the action and the pace

of the show to a halt. And not a step seems character-motivated. Some

dances proceed so listlessly that you might as well use the time to

read your program. At the press performance I saw, the audience was

hard-pressed to know when a dance ended and had to be prompted to

applaud.

The episodic plot has its laughs, as it obliges as an excuse for a

frenetic romanticized tour of NYC. It centers on the quest of three

sailors — Gabey (Perry Laylon Ojeda) Chip (Jesse Tyler Ferguson)

Ozzie (Robert Montano) — to find Miss Turnstiles, a.k.a. Ivy Smith

(Tai Jimenez). Her face on a subway poster has turned the head of

Gabey, the most innocent and beguiled of the trio. Not particularly

believable enough in their roles as salty skirt-chasers, or

particularly

dynamic as key players, the trio leaves only a slightly milder

impression

that does the object of their quest.

Sarah Knowlton is not nearly as much fun to watch as was her

predecessor

Kate Suber, as the hot anthropologist pursued by Ozzie. However, a

melancholy air that becomes a part of Gabey’s pursuit of the elusive

Miss Turnstiles allows for Ojeda to render a sweet delivery of the

plaintive "Lonely Town." But as Chip, Ferguson is trying too

hard to be Mickey Rooney and the shtick he used with more restraint

in the park has grown tiresome.

What are mercifully still grand, and perhaps a little more

over-the-top

than previously, are the performances of holdovers from the park,

Lea DeLaria and Mary Testa. DeLaria, who plays one helluva brassy,

brazen New York cabby, has the requisite lust in her heart and gusto

in her voice, and makes the seduction of seaman Chip into an instant

rafter-shaker. Testa continues to score big as Ivy’s boozing voice

teacher. We can still thank Comden and Green for their zany skits,

composer Bernstein for his glorious songs including "Some Other

Time" and "Lucky to Be Me." And when was the last time

you fell off your chair laughing at a song? Try "I Can Cook

Too"

and "Carried Away."

Though the Gershwin Theater looks to be too big even for the awesome

suspension bridge that spans the stage, Paul Tazewell (costumes),

Adrianne Lobel (sets), and Paul Gallo (lights) have tried hard to

make "On The Town" look like it never went out of style. Awash

in primary colors, super-stylized couture, and humorously caricatured

taxis, apartments, museums, streets, and nightclubs, this is an

"On

The Town" that has a bright snappy frame, but remains inert and

devoid of the verve and the magical movement that made it such a joy

in the summer of ’97. HH

— Simon Saltzman

On the Town, Gershwin Theater, 222 West 51, 800-755-4000.

$20 to $75.

Top Of Page
On Broadway

The key: HHHH Don’t miss; HHH

You won’t feel cheated;

HH Maybe you should have stayed home;

H Don’t blame us.

Art HH Royale, 242 West 45. Tony winner

for best

play.

Beauty and the Beast HHH Palace, Broadway

at 47.

Ticketmaster.

Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk

HHHH, Ambassador,

219 West 49.

Cabaret HHH Studio 54, 254 West 54,

800-432-7250.

Tony’s best in its new home.

Cats HHH Winter Garden, 50 & Broadway.

Chicago HHHH Shubert, 225 West 44.

Electra, Barrymore, 243 West 47. Zoe Wanamaker as seen

at McCarter Theater.

Fool Moon, Brooks Atkinson, 256 West 47. Bill Irwin &

David Shiner. Ticketmaster.

Footloose, Richard Rodgers, 226 West 46. Ticketmaster.

Previews.

Jekyll & Hyde HH Plymouth, 236 West 45.

Les Miserables HHH Imperial, 249 West 45.

Little Me HHH Roundabout, 1530 Broadway at

45, 212-719-1300.

Stars Martin Short.

Miss Saigon HHHH Broadway, 53 and

Broadway.

Parade, Vivian Beaumont, 150 West 65. Previews.

Peter Pan HHH Marquis, Broadway & 45.

Cathy Rigby.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Sixth Avenue & 50,

212-307-1000.

Ragtime HHHH Ford Center, 42 between 7

and 8

Avenue. Ticketmaster. Winner of four Tonys.

Rent HHHH Nederlander, 208 West 41.

Ticketmaster.

Sandra Bernhard: I’m Still Here… Dammit! Booth, 222

West 45.

Side Man HHH Golden, 252 West 45.

Smokey Joe’s Cafe HH Virginia, 245 West

52.

Swan Lake HHH Neil Simon, 250 West 52.

Ticketmaster.

Matthew Bourne’s gender bender.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane HH Walter

Kerr, 219

West 48.

The Blue Room, Cort, 138 West 48. Nicole Kidman and Iain

Glen. Previews.

The Lion King HHHH New Amsterdam,

Broadway &

42. 212-307-4747.

The Phantom of the Opera HHH Majestic,

247 West

44.

The Scarlet Pimpernel Minskoff, 200 West 45.

Ticketmaster.

Newly-revived.

The Sound of Music HH Martin Beck, 302

West 45.

Titanic HHHH Lunt-Fontanne, 205 West

46. Ticketmaster.

Top Of Page
Off-Broadway

A Couple of Blaguards, Triad, 158 West 72. By Frank

McCourt

and Malachy McCourt.

All Under Heaven, Century, 111 East 15. Valerie Harper

as Pearl Buck.

Behind the Counter with Mussolini, Theater at St. Peter’s

Church, Lexington at 54, 212-935-5820. To December 13.

Big Apple Circus, Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center,

212-721-6500.

Blue Man Group HHHH Astor Place, 434

Lafayette,

212-254-4370.

Carry the Tiger to the Mountain, Pan Asian Rep, 423 West

46, 212-245-2660.

Chaim’s Love Song, Greenwald, 307 West 26.

Chere Maitre, Flea Theater, 41 White, 212-226-0051. Urebe

Wirth & Peter Eyre.

Collected Stories HHH Lucille Lortel, 121

Christopher.

Uta Hagen.

Communicating Doors HH Variety Arts,

110 Third.

By Alan Ayckbourn.

De La Guarda HH Daryl Roth, 20 Union

Square East.

Degenerate Art, Theater for the New City, 155 First

Avenue,

212-633-1292.

Dinah Was HHH Gramercy, 127 East 23.

The Dinah

Washington story. Ticketmaster.

Duet!, Actors’ Playhouse, 100 Seventh Avenue.

Eight!, Tribeca Playhouse, 111 Reade. To December 20.

Forbidden Broadway Cleans Up! Stardust, Broadway & 51.

Freedomland, Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch HHH Jane

Street Theater,

113 Jane.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

HH, Westside,

407 West 43.

Impossible Marriage HHH Roundabout,

1530 Broadway

at 45. Holly Hunter.

Killer Joe, Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam. Scott Glenn and

Amanda Plummer.

Late Nite Catechism, St. Luke’s Church, 308 West 46,

800-432-7250.

Mercy, Vineyard, 108 East 15, 212-353-3366. By Laura

Cahill.

Nunsense A-Men, 47 Street Theater, 304 West 46.

Over the River & Through the Woods, Houseman, 450 West

42.

Perfect Crime, Duffy, 1553 Broadway.

Power Plays, Promenade, Broadway & 76.

R & J HHH Houseman Studio, 450 West 42,

212-354-2220.

A Romeo & Juliet story.

Sakina’s Restaurant, American Place, 111 West 46.

Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know, Triad, 158 West

72, 212-799-4599.

Spread Eagle, WPA, 519 West 23, 212-206-0523.

Stomp HHHH Orpheum, Second Avenue at 8.

Ticketmaster.

Stop Kiss, Public, 425 Lafayette.

Symphonie Fantastique, Here Arts, 145 Avenue of Americas,

212-647-0202. Puppets of Basil Twist.

The Fantasticks, 181 Sullivan Street Playhouse.

Ticketmaster.

Off-Broadway for 38 years and counting.

The Mystery of Irma Vep HHH Westside, 407

West 43.

The Old Settler, Primary Stages, 354 West 45,

212-333-4052.

John Henry Redwood’s McCarter premiere.

The Shaughraun, Irish Repertory, 132 West 22,

212-727-2737.

This is Our Youth, Second Stage, Broadway at 76,

212-787-3392.

Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding HHH St. Luke’s

Church, 308

West 46.

Trainspotting, Players, 115 MacDougal. From the novel

by Irvine Welsh.

Waiting for Godot, Classic Stage, 136 East 13.

Wit HHHH Union Square, 100 East 17,

212-505-0700.

With Kathleen Chalfant.

Zora Neale Hurston, American Place, 111 West 46. By

Laurence

Holder.

— Simon Saltzman

Top Of Page
Ticket Numbers

Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway reservations can be made

through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For

Ticketmaster

listings call 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.

For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,

and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing

arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS

same-day,

half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47th) is open

daily, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

for Wednesday and Saturday matinees; and noon to closing for Sunday

matinees. The lower Manhattan booth, on the Mezzanine at 2 World Trade

Center, is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday

11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; closed Sunday. Cash or travelers’ checks only.

Visit TKTS at: www.tdf.org.

A Broadway ticket line at 212-302-4111 gives information on Broadway,

selected Off-Broadway, and touring shows in other cities; calls can

be transferred to a ticket agent. Sponsored by Continental Airlines

and the New York Times.


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