The night I went to see On the Town, my phone was blowing up with three people asking me, “why are you seeing that show?”
Good question, people. I have no personal interest in the matter; I just have wide standards for theatre (bonus points if I can get a cheap ticket or two). Especially because On the Town is kinda, sorta, mostly an awful show. A book and characters with the depth of a frozen pizza and a Leonard Bernstein score, while nice, that doesn’t amount to anything I’d listen to out of context. Why this show keeps getting revived all the time is way beyond me, but then again, Broadway isn’t out to appeal to me and I doubt my proposed revival of Merrilly We Roll Along is a real money accumulator.
But credit where it’s due: this production of On The Town - playing at the Foxwoods Lyric Theatre - is a top-notch production. Like, the best production of On the Town I’ve ever seen and I probably ever will see because this show has about another three or six more revivals in my lifetime.
The show embraces what it is - a pure fantasy of three sailers docking into New York, wanting romance and adventure in their one day spent in New York. John Rando directs the show with an "old dog, new tricks" and larger than life gusto. The big-ass orchestra, the big-ass choreographed sequences, the big-ass set and projections, the DIALS TURNED UP TO A TWELVE approach to every scene...at least he gave it a good ol’ college try. Maybe even tries too hard to be NOSTALGIC and FUN and EXCITING and FUN and…FUN. But I can’t say I was bored or unimpressed; I was amused, simple as that. Some of the numbers and jokes land just by the sheer force of this production really really really wanting to entertain you. You can’t really say they are wrong-headed with that notion, no matter how empty the show can be.
For me, it was all about the performances that struck the perfect balance of On the Town zaniness and…well, recognizable and relatable people. Gabey, Ozzie and Chip are embued with charm in the bodies of Tony Yazbeck, Clyde Alves and Jay Armstrong Johnson. Bitches can sing AND dance, the latter of which is doubly impressive considering some lazy leading mofos leave that burden for the ensemble.
But it is Elizabeth Stanley and Alysha Umphress, whom as the two suitors that charm Ozzie and Chip respectively, that leave the show in the dust of their fabulosity. Stanley’s Claire is basically perfection. She’s GORGEOUSLY sung and perfectly dramatic, navigating her “I’m smart and I study homosapiens” prim demeanor with her “DO ME NOW, SAILOR” spontaneity like a pro.
And my girl Ms. Umphress is in a role where she belongs - the brash, hilarious and sexy Hildy. Lady is a BOSS and managed to make her character worth keeping and not some disposable broad that inserts herself into the plot because reasons. I actually believed Chip’s affection for her and Jess Goldstein’s costuming for Umphress plays up her fantastic frame and features. And when she is singing, all other basic bitches can back the fuck off - her pipes are rhapsodic for eardrums everywhere. The “Come Up to My Place” number was a legitimate laugh-out-loud riot as Hildy gets her "Crazy Taxi” on (and Armstrong’s physical contortions and affectations as he gets thrown around the “taxi” are FLAWless) and her “I Can Cook Too” is another highlight.
I was baffled when On the Town was moving into the former Spiderman: TOTD home and still don't know why they didn’t opt for a smaller theater that, production cost-wise, would ensure a longer shelf-life. But at least the folks behind the show had a point about its quality when taking that risk. I may not agree - even the best iteration of On the Town is still On the Town - but I can see where they are coming from.
Photo Credit: Kevin Sprague