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On the Town

The Paper Mill Playhouse presents a joyous staging of the classic 1944 musical. logo
Brian Shepard, Jennifer Cody, Tyler Hanes, Kelly Sullivan,
and Jeffrey Schecter in On the Town
(© Kevin Sprague)
There are numerous reasons to celebrate Bill Berry's joyous revival of On the Town, Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green's 1944 musical about the romantic escapades of three sailors on 24-hour leave in New York during World War II, now playing at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse.

For starters, it features lavish production values, a lively, full-size orchestra playing the classic score, and a young, very appealing cast. But its biggest selling point is the innovative, sexy, and very physical choreography of Patti Colombo, who previously scored at Paper Mill with her show-stopping choreography of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Kiss Me, Kate.

Colombo never misses an opportunity for dancing. When the male sailors jump off a loading dock and onto the streets of New York at the top of the musical, they are already doing back flips. In a reprise of the comedic song "Carried Away" at the Museum of Natural History, a group of cavemen unexpectedly join soon-to-be-lovers Claire and Ozzie in an African stomp. But most striking of all is Columbo's "Imaginary Coney Island" ballet, in which a subway opens up to reveal a colorful dreamscape covered in smoke, reminiscent of an MGM movie musical. At the same time, the staging never loses sight of the World War II time period.

Walt Spangler's numerous set pieces -- which include a giant dinosaur that falls apart, a Nedick's hotdog stand, and a subway train that takes up the entire stage -- create the sensation of a bustling, frantic city filled with eye-popping landmarks. A circular runway around the orchestra allows for extended chase sequences and additional contact with the audience. David C. Woolard's detailed costumes depict all the classes of New York society.

As Gabey, who dreams of finding the elusive subway queen Miss Turnstiles, Tyler Hanes has the matinee idol looks and clear voice needed for the role -- and never fails to throw himself into the dancing. Still, his performance is bland and lacks the style of the period.

Fortunately, the rest of the principal cast fares better, most notably Jen Cody, a four-foot-eleven bundle of dynamite who is rough and tough as Hildy, the brash cab driver who picks up innocent sailor Chip (Brian Shepard) and convinces him to go home with her. With a mix of high belting, low grunting and an occasional pelvic thrust, Cody never misses an opportunity to let loose. Kelly Sullivan playing the similarly hormonal paleontologist Claire DeLoone, can also be quite a clown. Yvette Tucker makes for a young, sexy Ivy Smith. Jeffrey Schecter shows a real knack for old-fashioned comic banter as Ozzie. And Harriet Harris, in the considerably smaller role of the inebriated, villainous vocal teacher Madame Maude P. Dilly, chews the scenery in an over-the-top performance reminiscent of her Tony Award-winning turn as Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie.


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