By Barry Reszel
Stellar individual performances and exquisite dance punctuate the Chicagoland premiere of Leonard Bernstein‘s 1944 musical, On the Town, at Lincolnshire’s Marriott Theatre, through Oct. 12.
The story of three sailors with 24 hours in New York to see the sights and meet the women of their dreams is based on Bernstein’s ballet, Fancy Free, choreographed by Jerome Robbins. On the Town‘s book and lyrics are by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
The original Broadway staging ran for more than a year, and MGM made the musical into a movie in 1949 starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Several revivals and tours since never made it to a Chicagoland stage. But Marriott’s premiere-here production is the first in a new-found appreciation of this piece. A Broadway revival begins previews in September with producers using a new crowd funding approach to bring on additional investors. Interested investors may read more here.
While the old-time musical plot is somewhat shallow and many of the tunes from young Berstein forgettable, Director David H. Bell, Choreographer Alex Sanchez and Music Director Ryan T. Nelson spotlight their terrific cast’s strengths to make patrons’ night on the town well worth their night out in Lincolnshire.
Max Clayton debuts at Marriott as Gabey, the romantic of the sailor triumvirate who falls in love with New York’s “Miss Turnstyles” from a photograph on a flyer. Alison Jantzie is a dream as his love interest, Ivy Smith. The duo shine together, particularly in “Lonely Town,” featuring a stunning ballet scene, which is tops among the first act highlights.
On the Town couple number two includes another Marriott newcomer, Jeff Smith, as sailor Ozzie. His attraction to engaged anthropologist Claire DeLoone, played by multi-talented Johanna McKenzie Miller, comes from his likeness to the Neanderthals she studies.
Their broad comedic scenes are enhanced when DeLoone fiancée Pitkin W. Bridgework joins in the fun (hysterically played by one of Chicagoland’s finest comedic actors, Alex Goodrich). Their number, “Carried Away,” featuring a Darwinian cast of evolving homo sapiens is bust-a-gut funny.
Sailor number three, another Marriott first-timer, is silly-yet-practical Chip, well played by Seth Danner, who is willingly kidnapped by cab driver Hildy as she shows him the sites of the big city. Expertly portrayed by Marya Grandy, just off a stunning dramatic performance in TimeLine theater’s Juno (review is here), Hildy is a sassy New Yorker who knows just what she wants (Chip) and won’t take no for an answer. Impeccable vocals in “Come Up to My Place” and “I Can Cook Too” combine with her terrific timing to make Hildy the most interesting character in the production.
Two additional individual performances are exceptionally noteworthy. Barbara Robertson as Madame Dilly, Ivy Smith’s drunk vocal instructor and Brandi Wooten as Hildy’s nose-blowing roommate, Lucy Schmeeler, infuse the story with laughter.
The full synopsis of On the Town may be read here. But what the plot summary cannot convey is extent to which this musical morphs slapstick and sappy, ballet and jazz, New York and small town. It’s a hodgepodge; but it’s a hodgepodge that works in the hands of an outstanding creative team.
So kudos to Bell, Nelson and Sanchez, whose work with Set Designer Thomas M. Ryan, Lighting Designer Jesse Klug and Costume Designer Nancy Missimi bring together the divergent on every front.
What enables them to do that, beyond those already mentioned, is this gifted ensemble of singers and dancers: Ryan Bernsten, Jordan Fife Hunt, Ellen Green, Monique Haley, Raymond Interior, Tiffany Krause, Kristina Larson-Hauk, Jeff Max, Andrew Purcell, Sam Rogers, Ian Saunders, Desiree Staples, Elizabeth Telford, and Melissa Zaremba.
So when Gaby, Chip and Ozzie return to their ship at the story’s end, it’s clear their 24 hours in the Big Apple touched the lives of at least eight people on that stage. It leads them to singing the production’s finest song, “Some Other Time,” gorgeously led by McKenzie Miller.
And that allows patrons to reprise, “New York, New York…it’s a helluva town…” for weeks after leaving the theatre.
“On the Town”‘ runs through Oct. 12 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr, Lincolnshire, with performances Wednesdays at 1 pm and 8 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4:30 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 1 pm and 5 pm (No performances July 2-6). Ticket prices range from $40 to $48, with discounts available for seniors and students. Dinner-theater packages are also available. Parking is free. Information and Tickets are available at the Marriott Theatre Box Office, 847-634-0200 or www.MarriottTheatre.com.