Sunday, July 19, 2015

Broadway's ON THE TOWN

What a terrific Broadway show!  Saturday night was like Christmas in July to me.  Married friends took  me to see ON THE TOWN, the Tony-nominated musical comedy revival at the Lyric Theatre on W. 42nd Street.  About my two totally cool friends:  Thos Shipley, a singer/actor, played a Marine in the original Broadway cast of Miss Saigon.  His husband, Joe DeIorio, is the former mayor of Roselle Park, New Jersey.  They scored three tickets to On The Town for a stupefyingly low price.  Each one cost less than a cineplex movie ticket.  I was out on the town with two great guys seeing an equally great show, one that has some fabulous history to it.  Three young and excited sailors get off the ship in Brooklyn.  They have 24 hours leave in New York.  They want to see Manhattan sights and Manhattan ladies.  And there are ladies who want to be seen.  And kissed.
There are no stars in this production.  No one like a Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Hugh Jackman or Neil Patrick Harris.  But there are performers in this who have the right stuff to be Broadway stars.  This revival has color, verve, wit and wonderful performances by the actor/singer/dancers in the cast.  This show is heavy on dance and the numbers, based on the original choreography by the legendary taskmaster Jerome Robbins, are sensational.  The performances pop.  Each one is full of life.

About the history:  The play opened on Broadway during World War II.  It was December 1944 and the war would end in September 1945.  By the time the excellent MGM movie version starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra was shot and released in 1949, the war was over.  The original Broadway cast album was one that I rented many times from my local library when I was a middle school kid in South Central Los Angeles.
This record was one of my first introductions to the brilliant music of Leonard Bernstein.  His brilliance was matched by the song & script writing team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden.  On the original cast album, you see Comden & Green to the left of Bernstein.  Talk about talent -- in addition to writing  the show's book (script) and the show's lyrics, Comden & Green were also in the show as one of its main couples.  Can you think of a songwriting/show writing team like that today?  Comden & Green were tapped by MGM, the Tiffany studio for Hollywood musicals.  They wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of On The Town.  The also wrote the screenplays for Singin' in the Rain and It's Always Fair Weather (both starring Gene Kelly), The Band Wagon starring Fred Astaire, Bells Are Ringing (screenplay and lyrics) and Auntie Mame.   Most of the On The Town Broadway songs were dropped for the movie version but Comden & Green wrote some tasty new ones.  For instance, "Prehistoric Man."  Ann Miller and Jules Munshin took over the role of the man-hungry anthropologist and the sailer that Comden & Green played onstage.  Their song, "Carried Away" was replaced by "Prehistoric Man" which gave sensational Ann Miller one dynamite tap number.
In the movie, Betty Garrett played Hildy, the lady cabdriver who falls for shy Chip, played by Frank Sinatra.
Gene Kelly played Gabey, the sailer in search of Miss Turnstiles.  Her real name is Ivy, an All-American girl who takes classes in Carnegie Hall from some dame who uses the cash for booze.  In the film, she was played by Vera-Ellen, a top Hollywood dancer.

Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen, seen on the far right in the above photo, dance to Bernstein ballet music from the Broadway score.  The original Broadway cast made history with its multi-ethnicity.  Ivy was originally played by Japanese-American dancer/actress Sono Osato, seen in the middle of the pic below with fellow original cast members.
Next to her in the photo is Nancy Walker, the comic actress/singer who became a big hit on TV decades later playing the mother of Rhoda Morgenstern in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  She originated the role of the lady cabdriver.  By the way, Sono Osato is now 95.
Besides a Japanese-American dancer/actress as the All-American girl, there were also black actors in the cast as typical New Yorkers.  The current production is also racially mixed and it has women who look like real women.  Hildy is a full-figured cutie in this show I.  She wasn't originally and she wasn't in the movie.  But she is now and actress Alysha Umphress was perfect for the part.  She wasn't the only full-figured gal in the show who got herself a guy.  I liked that.  If you're lucky enough to see this show, you'll by treated by original music by Leonard Bernstein and you'll hear how he laid the groundwork musically for his upcoming Broadway classic, West Side Story.

One tender number made tears roll down my cheek.  The song "Some Other Time" was not used in the film but it's gone on to become popular with jazz artists.  I've listened to that song since I was in middle school.  In my adult years, I met someone and fell in love in New York City.  And he fell in love with me.  That was in 1992.  He passed away 18 months later in 1994. I've been solo ever since.  I know that my married friends are impressed with the TV career I've had.  But watching them hold hands during the show...I would've traded a national TV appearance or two to have someone who wanted to hold my hand again.  I thought about my late partner during "Some Other Time."  Funny how things take on a new meaning the older you get.  Here's Blossom Dearie singing that song with lyrics by Comden & Green.  In the play, it's sung by the ladies and the sailors as the 24 hours shore leave come to an end.
Honestly, I didn't think I'd be doing a solo this long.  Often, I have felt sorry for myself.  But last night, after that song and as we headed into the show's happy ending, I thought "Maybe it was only 18 months.  But some people don't even get that much.  There are 8 million people in New York and I found one who loved me.  And I loved him.  Wow.  What a great a wonderful town."

This show is great entertainment.  It was Tony nominee for Best Revival.
Saturday night, the audience loved On The Town.  And, frankly, what's not to love?

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