Opening Nights: On the Town

A period piece made spectacular by love and style.

Probably the days are long past when an American city—not to mention a war—could be as effervescently mythologized as librettists/lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green did in their 1944 hit On the Town. Propelled by what's become the town's unofficial anthem, "New York, New York," three sailors spring off their ship for 24 hours of leave: worldly horndog Ozzie (in the 5th Avenue's homegrown revival, Greg McCormick Allen), boyish, earnest Chip (Matt Owen), and idealistic Gabey (Joe Aaron Reid). Proving that opposites attract, they hook up with buttoned-up Claire (Billie Wildrick), brassy maneater Hildy (Sarah Rudinoff), and Coney Island dancer Ivy (Courtney Iventosch)—whose picture Gabey sees on a subway poster, which sparks an obsession, sets him in pursuit, and launches their adventures. (Has anyone ever remarked on the debt American Graffiti owes to this show?) To this day, Leonard Bernstein's jazzy score—unbelievably, his first for Broadway—is still one of the richest, smartest ever written, every bar a delight. And there's lots of it; the many dance episodes recall the show's roots as a Jerome Robbins ballet. Spectrum Dance Theater handles that end of the production beautifully. The six principals are terrific—Rudinoff, in particular, delivers her big number, "I Can Cook Too," with a trumpeting, ebullient energy in one of the most exhilarating musical-comedy solo turns I've ever seen. Among the rest of the large cast, I need to mention Richard Gray, playing various emcees and compères, who seems to have time-traveled straight from the '40s. You'll swear you've seen his mug in some old gangster film, credited as Guy Standing Behind Edward G. Robinson.This authentic, but unmannered, sense of time and place is a large part of what makes director Bill Berry's production work so spectacularly. This On the Town is not pomo homage or updated pastiche, not embalmed or laminated, not put in quotation marks. It's an honest-to-goodness period piece, done as it should be, by people who love this Roman candle of a show, know the Broadway golden-age style, and know what it takes to set it off.

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