Don and I love the movie musical “On the Town”. Set in 1944, it’s the story of three sailors with 24-hour leave in New York City . One, Chip (Frank Sinatra) wants to see all the sites that his grandfather saw. The second, Gabey (Gene Kelly) wants to meet girls, girls, girls. He’s not particular; he just wants to meet girls. The third is Ozzie (Jules Munshin) who just wants to have fun. The story is of the coming together of each swabby and the girl he meets and comes to love. The lyrics are witty, by Betty Comdon and Adolph Green, our favorite lyricists. The byplay is catchy and funny. They are all innocents, looking for love.
Well, the 5th Avenue production of “On the Town” visited our favorite scenes, delivering with great voices, expert comic timing and dancers to go “Wow!” for. And of course, there are our favorite lyricists, Comden and Green.
The real difference between the sweetly innocent movie and the very much more realistic play is that the women the sailors meet display waaaay more sex drive in the play!
Claire the anthropologist (Billy Wildrick) meets and falls for Ozzie (Greg McCormick Allen, a favorite and familiar performer) at the Museum of Natural History . She’s immediately struck by his resemblance to Neanderthal-ish man, the topic of her research. However, Claire, about 20, has a 45 year-old fiancé, the very staid Judge Pitkin (Allen Fitzpatrick) who’s a continuing thread in the play. He sings a hilarious song about being beat up and always, always saying “I understand” - the other person needs his things more than he does or a beating is the exercise of a stressed mom. He understands when Claire forgets him or dumps him for more fun with the sailors and their girls or leaves him to pay the drinks bill for the group as they run from one club to another.
Chip (Matt Owen) is very young and impressionable. He has come to New York with his grandfather’s guide book and wants to see all the sites: the Hippodrome (since torn down) or the city’s tallest building, the Woolworth (since replaced by the Empire State Building .)
Chip climbs into Hildy’s cab (Sara Rudinoff, who was also great in “ Wonderful Town ”) and is immediately disabused of the notion that he wants to sightsee. She sings “Come Up to My Place”, a rather overt attempt at seduction. When they finally get to her apartment, Hildy’s unwelcome roommate Lucy Smeeler (Jennifer Sue Johnson) is home with a severe head cold. Lucy sneezes and coughs and gargles with a great dampening effect.
Gabey (Joe Aaron Reid) and the guys get on the subway and he is immediately struck by the beauty and elegance of this month’s Miss Turnstiles, Ivy Smith (Courtney Ivantosch) as seen on the poster. Gabey, originally the real horndog, becomes the romantic on a quest. He seeks her based on ridiculous clues on the poster. He eventually finds her in a Carnegie Hall rehearsal room, being instructed by the autocratic, fake-exotic Russian, Madame Dilly (the ever wonderful Suzy Hunt). Ms. Dilly wants Ivy to keep at her lessons, and to enable her to pay for them, has arranged for Ivy to be a cooch or exotic dancer at Coney Island, apparently at the establishment of a Dilly`s relative.
I must mention Richard Gray who plays many parts: the Miss Turnstiles poster paste-r, the subway announcer, Claire’s professor, and the MC in the increasingly seedy clubs the couples run to in an effort to find Gabey. As the MC, he first sets up the smarmy character and in the next clubs, uses the same dialogue but completely changes the costume, accent, hairdo and emphasis. He is a treasure.
Also in the club scenes, an unaccredited chanteuse comes on and sings a few bars of “I Wish I Was Dead”, with stabbing into the stomach. In the Congacabana, she sings the same song, but effectively mimes an elaborate hari-kari. Other recurring parts were a couple of office worker women, who nasally drone on and on. The first one says “Mr. Galbordini, I’m not that kind of girl!” The second asks, “What did he say then?” The first rides right over the question and continues, “I told him…”
The scenery was fun. I especially enjoyed the taxi, jolting and shaking but never moving. Also the changing nightclubs had effectively the same furniture but just a change in table coverings and costumes made all the difference.
One other difference between the movie and the play is that the play emphasizes the dancing as opposed to the snappy patter. Its run time is much longer, and it is all filled with the ballet-like dancing. The Spectrum Dance Theatre dancers move beautifully.
Most of all I loved the songs, “I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet”, wonderfully sung by Ekello Harrid; “New York, New York” that makes me want to experience NY for myself; “Carried Away” an apologia from Claire and Ozzie about their lack of impulse control; Hildy’s “Come Up to My Place and her promise of more than sex, “I Can Cook, Too!”; the “I Understand” by the much put upon fiancé Pirkin; the bitter sweet “Some Other Time” when the sailors must say goodbye; and the reprise of “New York, New York” by the next group of sailors going on their 24-hour leave. It’s fast paced and I like the lightheartedness of the script.
The only thing I take exception to was the wig that Ivy Smith wore. It was not flattering and emphasized her ballerina gauntness.
“On the Town” runs until May 2. It is part of the Seattle Celebrates Bernstein series. It’s great fun and worth seeing. For information or tickets, call the box office at 206-625-1900 or go online to 5thAvenuetheatre.org.