Reviews Broadway Published 3 November 2014

On the Town

Lyric Theatre ⋄ Began 20 September 2014

A helluva show, mostly.

Richard Patterson

From the first notes of its rousing opening song, “I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet,” sung by baritone Phillip Boykin as an early-rising workman, On the Town feels like an old-fashioned musical in every sense of the term. There’s a loose plot, with punchy jokes, showy charm songs, and plenty of chances for the cast’s fabulous dancers to let rip in time with a Bernstein tune. At its best, the show hearkens back to the era of splashy MGM film musicals (of which On the Town itself was one) featuring broad comic dames (namely Alysha Umphress, Elizabeth Stanley, Allison Guinn, and Jackie Hoffman in this production) and hunky dancing men, including Clyde Alves, Jay Armstrong-Johnson, and especially Tony Yazbeck as Gabey, our protagonist.

The show’s flimsy plot revolves around three sailors on leave in New York City for 24 hours. Ozzie (Alves) and Chip (Armstrong-Johnson) are content to chase just about any tail, but Gabey wants nothing but the best, and his loyal friends are hell-bent on helping him find the best gal, in this case the current “Miss Turnstiles” Ivy Smith (real-life New York City Ballet dancer Megan Fairchild), a Juilliard-trained singer and dancer. Ozzie and Chip search in vain but end up finding other girls to occupy them — Ozzie falls for a loopy anthropologist named Claire de Loone in the natural history museum, while Chip falls in with a saucy cab driver named Hildy Esterhazy who desperately wants him to come up to her place.

Meanwhile, Gabey follows Ivy’s subway ad to Juilliard, where he finds her in the middle of a voice lesson with the eccentric drunk Madame Dilly (Hoffman), who stores extra booze in her piano. Ivy agrees to go on a date with Gabey, and the two set a meeting time, but when the time arrives, she’s called away by Madame Dilly, who reminds her that she’s past-due on her lesson fees and sends her off to her paying gig at a seedy strip joint. With Gabey left high and dry, he and his friends (and their girls) head out for a night on the town.

John Rando’s giant-sized production aims to fill the Lyric’s cavernous auditorium, and mostly succeeds, though some of the show’s quieter moments end up lost amidst poor acoustics. Still, a game cast and some excellent choreography by Joshua Bergasse more than make up for the theatre’s inadequacies. The show succeeds best when it’s hitting its comic highs, as when Hildy sings her classic comedy song “I Can Cook Too” or Claire and Chip and Ozzie are singing their evolution-based romp “Carried Away,” and during its lush, romantic sections, especially Tony Yazbeck’s well-sung (and stunningly-danced) “Lonely Town” segment, and in the climactic “The Great Lover Displays Himself,” in which Yazbeck and Fairchild hush the crowd by dint of their sexual chemistry alone.

Much of the rest of the show is marred by a mediocre book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, whose cardboard-thin plot just barely sustains Bernstein’s glorious score (the show’s lyrics are also by Comden and Green, and are much better than their work on the book). Audiences will recognize the show’s title song, but there are a number of other standout tunes, including the aforementioned “Lonely Town” and “Ya Got Me.” There are plenty of clunker jokes, some of which land thanks to the talents of Jackie Hoffman in multiple roles; Hoffman nearly walks off with the show, as does Umphress as Hildy, and Allison Guinn makes the bit part of Hildy’s sick roommate Lucy Schmeeler hilariously her own. If it weren’t for these ladies and Elizabeth Stanley as Claire, this On the Town wouldn’t be half as good as it is. The dancing is terrific, the story is cute if less-than-thrilling, but what the show needs is laughs — and thankfully these women deliver in spades.


Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.

On the Town Show Info

Directed by John Rando

Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Choreography by Joshua Bergasse

Cast includes Chip Abbott, Clyde Alves, Tanya Birl, Phillip Boykin, Angela Brydon, Holly Ann Butler, Julius Carter, Peter Chursin, Kristine Covillo, Stephen DeRosa, Megan Fairchild, Lori Ann Ferreri, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Allison Guinn, Stephen Hanna, Jackie Hoffman, Eloise Kropp, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Brandon Leffler, Jess Leprotto, Cory Lingner, Skye Mattox, Michael Rosen, Michael Rupert, Elizabeth Stanley, Samantha Sturm, Alysha Umphress, Christopher Vo, Cody Williams, Mikey Winslow, Tony Yazbeck

Original Music Leonard Bernstein (music), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics)


Running Time 2 hrs, 30 min (with one intermission)



Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.