On The (Bean)Town

In a visit to my hometown this past week, I attended the Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s revival of On The Town. I’ve been waiting a long time to find a live production of this musical, as the film adaptation was one of my favorite movies as a child.

The most notable difference between the stage and film versions is that each has an almost entirely separate score, with only a few songs shared between the two. The stage version features an original score by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and music by Leonard Bernstein. The spirited story of three sailors on shore leave in New York City (Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie), and of the three women they meet (Ivy, Hildy, and Claire), is loosely based on Jerome Robbins’s 1944 ballet, “Fancy Free” (still performed by New York City Ballet), and both the stage and film versions make dance an important feature of the musical. 

In Lyric Stage’s production, the choreography by Ilyse Robbins (no relation to Jerome Robbins) makes very smart use of the space available, using dance to transition between or define various settings. The subway is indicated by a group of people standing close together in the middle of the stage, each raising an arm as though gripping the handrail for balance, and all swaying or bending slightly as if the train is actually moving at high speed. Characters enter and exit from different locations, illustrating the subway’s transient nature with everyone going their own way. The lighting (designed by Scott Clyve) helps to complete the image, flashing in a way that is reminiscent of subway windows.

Dance also becomes an important part of the musical’s plot, especially in the show’s longer ballets. “Presentation of Miss Turnstiles,” shows the image Gabey (played by John Ambrosino) has of Ivy (played by Lauren Gemelli) after seeing her picture in the subway. She dances with fairly simple but elegant turns and quick jumps, interacting in short duets with men who seem to represent her interests and skills as described on the poster – a “family man,” a man in an army uniform, an athlete. The dance also seems to reveal the image Ivy hopes to project of herself, and the image she strives to reach, even though in reality she does not exactly fit her ideal. She moves with grace and confidence for much of the ballet as she displays the skills she claims to have, but in a few moments she looks a bit unsure, almost stumbling over a step as though she is still practicing it. Later in the story, during Ivy’s interactions with her singing teacher, we see more of this reality. Ivy is not a famous celebrity as Gabey originally thinks, but an ordinary girl with big dreams like his own. Gemelli’s portrayal of these complications is admirable, and shows that her skill in dance goes beyond knowing how to execute the movements – she reveals her character in every step.

“Lonely Town Pas de Deux,” another larger dance number, gives insight into Gabey’s mental state: he sits concealed behind a building, watching a series of couples dance. Finally, everyone exits except for a man in an army uniform and a girl (Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Kayla Bryan) dancing together. They move slowly through the lifts and spins, focusing only on one another and clearly standing out from the other couples. Their dance illustrates the romance Gabey wants in his own life, and how lonely the big city can feel without it. Robbins’s choreography also adds to the comedy of some of the more humorous musical numbers: in “Carried Away,” sung by Claire (Aimee Doherty) and Ozzie (Zachary Eisenstat), three cavemen (Pim van Amerongen, Cameron Benda, and Daniel Sullivan) do a whimsical tap dance in the Museum of Natural History. Though the moment is brief, it is a clear crowd-pleaser, and captures the comic spirit that defines the number.

Perhaps the most moving part of the show is the number “Some Other Time,” sung by Claire, Ozzie, Hildy (Michele A. DeLuca), and Chip (Phil Taylor). This song is set apart from the comedy and fun that characterizes most of the rest of the show, taking on a slightly more serious, even sad tone. The two couples sing about the fleeting nature of the time they’ve spent together, and of the experiences they won’t get to share because their relationships have been condensed into one day. The song is delivered with particular feeling and emotion in this production, and is one moment that clearly stands out. Similarly, though we only get to spend a couple hours with On The Town, viewers leave the production perhaps a bit reluctantly, having enjoyed all of the music, dancing, and good fun it has to offer.

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