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On the Town

Reprise! presents the classic musical about World War II-era sailors on leave in NYC.

By New York City
David Brouwer, David Elder, Jeffrey Schecterand company in On the Town
(Photo © Michael Lamont)
David Brouwer, David Elder, Jeffrey Schecter
and company in On the Town
(Photo © Michael Lamont)
The Reprise! series has brought us a mostly excellent production of the 1944 Bernstein-Comden-Green musical On the Town. Directed by Dan Mojica and choreographed by Lee Martino, the show features a supremely talented cast, including Tony Award winner Harriet Harris in a supporting role.

Set in World War II-era New York, On the Town tells of three sailors on 24-hour-leave. Chip (Jeffrey Schecter) wants to see the famous sights; Ozzie (David Brouwer) wants to check out as many women as possible; and Gabey (David Elder), the group's alpha-male, seeks true love. Each falls in love at first sight with an assertive if not necessarily honest woman who manages to wrap the guy around her little finger. It's a credit to librettists Comden and Green that all three of these gals -- played respectively by Bets Malone, Tami Tappan Damiano, and Kate Levering -- are immensely likeable.

Given the essential lightness of the material, the subtle touches that Bernstein added to the score are extraordinary -- for example, his use of cacophonous sounds to represent the fast-paced city. Highlights include Hildy's "I Can Cook Too" and the group number "Ya Got Me," just two of the many songs that were replaced for the famed MGM film starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly.

Mojica has created a remarkable sense of place in this production, as in the "Times Square Ballet," during which the sailors and their girls travel all over the city. Lighting designer Tom Ruzika also does a first-rate job, especially in the dream sequences. (In the Dream Coney Island ballet, he manages to isolate Gabey in white as he dances in and out of blocks of dancers lit strikingly in cathouse red.) Bradley Kaye's sets employ cool blue art deco styles, with fanciful depictions of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Changes of location are indicated by picturesque backdrops reminiscent of the The New Yorker magazine covers of the '40s.

When I saw that Kaye's set took up half the stage, I wondered how this ballet-oriented show could be danced effectively in the relatively small space remaining. But the cast quickly proved that they could do so in the rousing opening number, as a dozen or so men leapt about in bright white Navy uniforms. As the show progressed, the energetic, talented ensemble fostered the illusion that millions of Manhattanites were passing before our eyes.

As for the leads, Elder brings earnestness and musicality to the role of Gabey. Levering, Damiano, and Schechter do well in their roles. Harris makes the most of Madame Dilly, the perpetually drunk voice coach, but the part just isn't big enough for her talent. Taking the spotlight instead are Brouwer, whose Ozzie is like a dirty old man in the body of Brad Pitt, and Malone, whose Hildy is the adhesive of the entire show. Her combination of moxie and a belting voice make her delightfully sexy. What's amazing is that Malone joined the production rather late in the game, as a replacement for Alanna Ubach. Watching her, you would think that she had been cast first and that the production has been built around her. She really takes this Town.


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