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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
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
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
inherent nostalgia in a more contemporary frame. Under Wolfe’s
a show that was once notable for its nerve and verve, is now labored
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
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
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
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
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
dynamic as key players, the trio leaves only a slightly milder
that does the object of their quest.
Sarah Knowlton is not nearly as much fun to watch as was her
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
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
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
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
$20 to $75.
The key: HHHH Don’t miss; HHH
You won’t feel cheated;
HH Maybe you should have stayed home;
H Don’t blame us.
219 West 49.
Tony’s best in its new home.
at McCarter Theater.
David Shiner. Ticketmaster.
Stars Martin Short.
Avenue. Ticketmaster. Winner of four Tonys.
Matthew Bourne’s gender bender.
and Malachy McCourt.
as Pearl Buck.
Church, Lexington at 54, 212-935-5820. To December 13.
Wirth & Peter Eyre.
By Alan Ayckbourn.
Washington story. Ticketmaster.
407 West 43.
at 45. Holly Hunter.
A Romeo & Juliet story.
212-647-0202. Puppets of Basil Twist.
Off-Broadway for 38 years and counting.
John Henry Redwood’s McCarter premiere.
by Irvine Welsh.
With Kathleen Chalfant.
— Simon Saltzman
through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For
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