When Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town” premiered on Broadway in 1944, it was a simpler time — or at least a simpler time was being portrayed on stage. Men were men; women were women; people fell in love at first sight; troubles were easily solved in two hours (usually by dancing them away.)
It’s easy to forget the days of the mindless, pretty musical nowadays, what with our more realistic, gritty musicals. Some may say we’re better off now, with realism onstage; we’re at least better informed. But sometimes you just need to turn off your mind and watch a glittery, pretty musical drawn from our collective pasts. Barrington Stage’s “On the Town” is just the show to fill that need.
Ozzie, Chip and Gabey are three sailors on a one-day leave in New York City in 1944 — the first visit there for the trio. Chip wants to sightsee (from a seriously outdated tour guide); Ozzie wants to . . . well, what you’d stereotypically expect a sailor on leave to want to do, as soon as he can find a likely young lady; and Gabey isn’t sure what he wants, until he sees a poster on the subway of Miss Turnstiles, the winner of a New York City subway beauty contest. As Gabey saved Chip and Ozzie’s life on the ship, they feel obligated to put aside their goals and help him find the woman of his dreams.
‘On the Town’
WHERE: Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass.
WHEN: Through July 13
HOW MUCH: $65-$20
MORE INFO: (413) 236-8888, barringtonstageco.org
However, as often happens in these types of musicals, the expected and the actual don’t always see eye to eye. Chip meets a female cabbie who takes him on a romantic detour; Ozzie meets an anthropologist who has trouble controlling her urge to study the male form up close and personally; and Gabey finds Miss Turnstiles, but she might not be the woman he’s dreamed of after all.
Collectively, the group of actors brought together in this production is high-energy, talented and perfect in their roles. They embody the sweetness and nostalgic naiveté of the 1940s — all wide-eyed, bright colors, crisp dance moves and romantic swoons. Jennifer Caprio’s costumes are beautiful, cut flatteringly, sexy without being over the top. Beowulf Boritt’s set is minimal and utterly stunning in its simplicity.
Although the sailors (Clyde Alves, Tony Yazbeck, and Jay Armstrong Johnson) were excellent, two of the women really stood out. Deanna Doyle’s Ivy Smith is sweet and yearning with a hard edge, a woman who’s aware that life is hard but retains a still, small hope that there’s something better out there waiting for her. Her dancing was some of the best, and that’s saying a lot on a stage filled with supremely talented dancers.
Alysha Umphress’ Hildy was the one to watch, however — she commanded the stage, even when only in a background role in a scene. Her charisma, humor and power were joyous. She took a character that could have been just a stereotype cardboard cutout and brought her roaring and fully formed to life, and it was obvious she had the time of her life doing so.
Under John Rando’s direction, “On the Town” is a hit — bright, perky, a love letter to the New York City of the past in just over two hours. It’s a perfect little time capsule of a show and well-worth the drive to Pittsfield.