Barrington Stage Company: 'On the Town' offers diversions and delights
PITTSFIELD -- Three sailors and the gals they hook up with during a madcap 24-hour shore leave in New York. That's pretty much all there is in terms of plot to "On the Town," the 1944 musical that introduced composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist-librettists Betty Comden and Adolph Green and choreographer Jerome Robbins to Broadway audiences
Director John Rando has a particularly nice feel for this material. While his production for Barrington Stage Company is not quite up to the mark of his memorable "Guys and Dolls" in BSC's 2011 season -- he's dealing with less rich material here -- it's a pleasant diversion; more effective in its smaller, more intimate moments than in its grander ones.
Rando's performers are likable and masterly in their handling of the Bernstein/Comden and Green score, and Joshua Bergasse's choreography. There is a reassuring sense of ease and connection among the principals -- Jay Johnson Arnstrong, Clyde Alves and Tony Yazbeck as the three sailors, respectively ingenuous Peoria native Chip; the much savvier Ozzie; and the idealistically romantic Gabey, who falls in love with the poster photo of Miss Turnstiles for June, Ivy Smith, and is determined to find her; Deanna Doyle as the aforementioned Ivy; the sublimely mad Alysha Umphress as a man-eating cabbie named Hildy, who devours the innocent Chip; and an inspired Elizabeth Stanley as Claire de Loone, a starchy anthropologist who, like Ivy, turns out not to be what she seems.
Among them, these six provide moments that raise the bar -- Hildy and Chip's lusty "Come Up to My Place"; Claire and Ozzie's "Carried Away"; Gabey's haunting, deeply affecting "Lonely Town"; Hildy's delicious double-entendred "I Can Cook Too"; and Claire, Hildy, Ozzie and Chip's wistful, lastingly memorable "Some Other Time."
The problem with "On the Town" is that it too often gets in its way. The runup to the climax, for example, is self-indulgent and wearing. More critically, the dance forms that gave rise to "On the Town," which is inspired by Robbins' and Bernstein's ballet, "Francy Free," imposes its will at will, in ways that, too often, are more gratuitous than integral. And so a show that should breeze through its two-hours feels longer, more weighty and prolonged; enough to disrupt naturally lighter impulses but not enough to be fatal. New York remains a wonderful town.
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