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Catch-22

On the Town

Encores! presents a polished staging of the just-about-perfect 1944 musical.

By New York City
Christian Borle, Tony Yazbeck, and Justin Bohon
in On the Town
(© Joan Marcus)
Christian Borle, Tony Yazbeck, and Justin Bohon
in On the Town
(© Joan Marcus)
There was some grumbling locally when On the Town was announced as the kick-off production at the 2008-2009 Encores! series. After all, the 1944 Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Jerome Robbins-Bernstein classic had been revived in Central Park and on Broadway 10 years ago by the Public Theater. Yet, were every incarnation of On the Town as polished and charming as the glorified concert version director John Rando and choreographer Warren Carlyle have put forward audiences might very likely decide they'd be giddy with glee to see the piece not just every decade but every night of the week for the next whatever.

Rando and Carlyle -- reproducing the Robbins choreography for some numbers and on his fancy-free own for others -- have done no wrong. Nor has the cast assembled faltered while having great pleasure reproducing the innocent and hopeful attitude of a period when the country was fighting a supposed good war.

The show concerns Gabey (Tony Yazbeck), Chip (Justin Bohon), and Ozzie (Christian Borle) on a 24-hour shore leave during which they find love with, respectively, Ivy Smith (Jessica Lee Goldyn), Hildy Esterhazy (Leslie Kritzer), and Claire de Loone (Jennifer Laura Thompson). There isn't much more story than this, but there is hilarious compensation by eccentric characters like boozehound dance teacher Madame Maude P. Dilly (Andrea Martin), understanding upper-class fiancé: Judge Pitkin W. Bridgework (Michael Cumpsty), sneeze-a-minute Lucy Shmeeler (Julyana Soelistyo), and a parade of awful night-club singers (Rachel Coloff, repeatedly funny).

Let's give huzzahs for Yazbeck's multi-talented Gabey, the energetic good cheer of Borle and Bohon, Kritzer's brass-section Hildy, Goldyn's sweet and talented Ivy, Thompson's melted socialite Claire, Cumpsty's good-hearted commitment to Bridgework, Soelistyo's mousy but juicy Lucy, and, most of all, Martin's master class in how to make a small part huge.

Not a one of them could shine, however, were it not for the score that remains as mint-fresh today as it was when Bernstein and Comden and Green (who played Claire and Ozzie) first minted it. There's plenty of the Bernstein music, too, orchestrated by the composer himself with the great Hershey Kay, Don Walker, Elliot Jacoby and Ted Royal. The airy, fiery sequences Carlyle has set to all the instrumental pieces is worthy of them.

Of all the songs, perhaps the most moving now (as then) is the wistful "Some Other Time." It talks of the catching-up to which wartime couples look forward but don't necessarily believe will transpire. To an extent, the song is even more poignant these days, because there will be no more catching up with Bernstein, Comden, Green, and Robbins. Except every time the wonderful and just-about-perfect On the Town comes around.


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