It would be nearly impossible to write a show as perfectly suited to Broadway as “On the Town.” With music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, this is the New York musical to end all New York musicals. First performed in 1944, the show carries with it an impenetrable waft of nostalgia, using sequins and dance numbers to dress up a time in American history that was not very glamorous.
The story follows three naval officers, Gabey, Chip and Ozzie, as they take a whirlwind tour of New York City on their 24-hour leave from the navy. Each sailor has a different goal for the day, but everyone becomes distracted when Gabey falls in love at first sight with a poster on the subway. She is Miss Turnstiles, otherwise known as Ivy Smith, and the boys decide they are going to find her, nevermind the fact that she could be anywhere in the city.
Naturally, the gang splits up in order to cover more ground, and within an hour each boy has paired up with a girl. Chip has been lured into a taxi by sexy driver Hildy, Ozzie has become anthropologist Claire’s favorite specimen and Gabey has managed to find Ivy Smith at Carnegie Hall.
The sailors’ adventure takes off with a swinging start, and the accompanying song-and-dance interludes are completely silly and so much fun. Tony Yazbeck is perfectly cast as Gabey, with a wonderfully clear voice and puppy dog demeanor. His moves are not at all shabby, either, and the audience witnesses his abilities during a ballet duet with Megan Fairchild’s Ivy. Individually, Yazbeck and Fairchild are quite talented. Together, their footwork is almost dazzling.
The other two leading ladies, Alysha Umphress as Hildy and Elizabeth Stanley as Claire, are phenomenal. Both women are gorgeous and confident with voices to match, but they are also quite adept at physical comedy. Often they outshine the talents of their male counterparts, Clyde Alves’ Ozzie and Jay Armstrong Johnson’s Chip. Johnson is a little bit overly dopey, turning him into more of a caricature than a sympathetic character.
Many audience members will attend “On the Town” with the movie version in mind, remembering the excellent performances of greats like Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Vera Ellen and Anne Miller. For better or for worse, this Broadway production only features musical numbers from the original staged version, so fans will miss familiar songs like “You’re Awful” and “When You Walk Down Mainstreet With Me.”
Yet the incredible cast and crew of this show work hard to match the fun pace of the film, and perhaps manage to exceed it by sheer impressiveness of set and choreography. New York is a helluva town, and “On the Town” is a helluva show.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 30 print edition. Email Clio McConnell at [email protected]