On The Town

Laurence Green reviews Drew McOnie’s funny and joyful revival of Leonard Bernstein’s production, On The Town.

On The Town

One of the legendary musicals from Broadway’s golden age, Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town, is back in a scintillating new production, directed by Drew McOnie, in the splendid setting of the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park.

It’s 1944 and a trio of sailors arrive in New York City for 24 hours of shore leave, eager to see the sights and pack in some amorous action before returning to their ship. On the subway, Gabey spots a poster of “Miss Turnstiles”, Ivy Smith, and instantly becomes obsessed with meeting her. Elsewhere Chip takes a ride with an outgoing cab driver named Hildy, and Ozzie meets anthropologist Claire de Loone at the Museum of Natural History. By the next morning, the guys and their gals have enjoyed a night of dance and romance in some of the city’s hottest nightclubs, an adventure none of them will forget.

The plot of the show may be wafer thin, but this is a musical filled with sweet humour and high energy, which has a vibrant explosive tunefulness and the use of dance to create its world and tell its story. Indeed Jerome Robbins’s great choreography captures the exhilarating glad-to-be-alive exuberance of its protagonists.

Bernstein’s exquisite score-with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green-erupts with passion and pleasure, wit and grit, and is gorgeously sung and immaculately played by Tom Deering’s brassy orchestra. I should also add that McOnie’s production constantly underlines the fragile, fleeting nature of time, love and life so that while this might be described as a happy show, it is also tinged with sadness and regret.

Strictly Come Dancing finalist Danny Mac brings style and charm to the role of the romantic Gabey, while Samuel Edwards and Jacob Maynard as Ozzie and Chip respectively, the latter swapping his guidebook for a different kind of sightseeing with Hildy, also impress. On the female side, Siena Kelly’s Ivy captures our hearts and dances every step as if her life depended on it. Lizzy Connolly is hilarious as lusty, cab-driver Hildy, never more so than in the sexually ravenous number I Can Cook Too, and Miriam-Teak Lee ratchets up the comedy, as well as displaying a powerful singing voice, as anthropologist Claire de Loone who, with disgraceful abandon, throws over her strong and stable fiancé for a day and a night of living life to the full. There is also a scene stealing performance by Maggie Steed as inebriated singing teacher Madame Dilly, who observes that “sex and art don’t mix, if they did, I’d have gone straight to the top!” Furthermore, the period outfits are bright and colourful and help make this musical such an engaging experience.

Everyone in this tireless company of 27 sings “New York is a helluva town” and this breezy, joyful show is a helluva lot of fun!

On The Town

Showing at the Open Air Theatre, Regents Park until 1 July 2017

Last modified: April 6, 2021

Written by 8:58 am Theatre