On the Town

For two weeks, New York City has come to USC. And “New York, New York [is] a helluva town.”

Tony Award winner director John Rubinstein portrays his vision of Leonard Bernstein’s musical On the Town at Bing Theatre, and performed by the School of Theatre, now in its last weekend.

Photo courtesy of the School of Theatre

The musical, Bernstein’s first Broadway score, was inspired by Jerome Robbins’ ballet Fancy Free. The book and lyrics were written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

Set during World War II, On the Town depicts the 24-hour leave of three sailors in New York City.

One sailor, Gabey (sophomore Matthew McFarland), falls for the girl of his dreams after seeing a photo on a subway of June’s “Miss Turnstiles.” The trio splits up as each attempts to find Gabey’s dream girl, Ivy Smith (senior Emma Chandler).

Gabey’s friends and fellow sailors, Chip (senior Mark Jacobson) and Ozzie (sophomore D.J. Blickenstaff), have adventures and find women of their own as they search for Ivy.

Chip meets the aggressive and strong-willed taxi driver Hildy (junior Adrienne Storrs), who eventually persuades him to go to her apartment.

Meanwhile, Ozzie visits a museum, where he meets the anthropologist Claire (junior Haley Fletcher), who occasionally gets “Carried Away” with men, though she is engaged to Judge Pitkin (freshman Cole Cuomo).

With less than 24 hours to spare, the couples spend time exploring New York City with one another.

The nearly three-hour-long production has the audience laughing throughout. The cast skillfully portrays each character’s personality, from bashful Chip to downhearted nightclub singer Señorita Dolores Dolores (senior Marina Lynn Macer).

The actors’ performances make the musical more than simple comedy, helping to create a romantic atmosphere.

Costume designer Manuel Prieto’s 1940s ensembles enhance the characters’ personalities as well as the romantic aspect of On the Town.

Ivy’s singing coach, Madame Dilly (freshman Madelyne Heyman), wears an asymmetrical dress with a handkerchief hem, appropriately fitting her dysfunctional lifestyle. Gabey’s various love interests dress in red, highlighting the musical’s romantic qualities.

The elegant and graceful dances choreographed by Lili Fuller express the emotions among the couples, as in “The Great Lover Displays Himself” and “Pas de Deux,” when Gabey imagines finding Ivy and dancing with her.

At other times, such as the scene in which the Museum of Natural History comes to life, the choreography prompts the audience’s laughter.

The costumes, choreography and lighting during “Lonely Town Pas de Deux” exemplify how well the elements of production work together in this musical. The lighting sets the stage for the dancers in their black and white attire with black umbrellas in hand. The dancers perform ballet as an expression of the loneliness felt when one is without love, even when surrounded by so many people in a big city.

Still, On the Town is not without its flaws. Scenic designer William Sammons’ staging for each scene typically consists of I-beam structures simply rearranged, which  quickly become eyesores and detract from the romantic quality of the musical.

In addition, projection designer Nick Santiago goes too far in his use of projections. The projections depict the dark tunnel through which the subway is traveling, the people and cars behind Hildy’s taxi as she drives, and the images of the New York landmarks Chip wants to visit. Unfortunately, the projections serve as distractions rather than complements.

On the Town is a well run production overall. It conveys Bernstein’s idea, influenced by World War II, that love must be taken advantage of while possible, even if it will only last for a short while.

Some elements take away from the romantic-comedy feel, but the audience leaves the theater in high spirits wanting to return for more.

2 replies
  1. trojanforlife
    trojanforlife says:

    Can’t the DT get a theatre major to write these? Or at least someone with some ability to actually review the cast and creative team without resorting to useless comments that boil down to: “the cast is good” and “the sets are bad?” Andy Bernard may consider those comments worthy of a critic but I’d think the DT would strive for something more insightful than that…

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