On The Town

On the Town – A Musical Comedy in Two Acts [Book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green based on an idea by Jerome Robbins; orchestrations by Hershy Kay, Don Walker, Elliott Jacoby, Bruce Coughlin and Ted Royal, with the composer]

Gabey – Joshua Dallas
Chip – Sean Palmer
Ozzie – Ryan Molloy
Hildy – Caroline O’Connor
Claire – Lucy Schaufer
Ivy Smith – Helen Anker
Pitkin – Andrew Shore
Workman 1 / Announcer / Master of Ceremonies / Rajah Bimmy / Subway conductor / Dance contest judge – Rodney Clarke
Madame Dilly – June Whitfield
Lucy Schmeeler – Janine Duvitski
Diana Dream / Dolores Dolores – Alison Jiear

Chorus and Orchestra of English National Opera
Simon Lee

Jude Kelly – Director
Choreographer – Stephen Mear
Designer – Robert Jones
Mark Henderson – Lighting designer [revived by Kevin Sleep & Ian Jackson French]
Nick Lidster – Sound designer

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 27 April, 2007
Venue: The Coliseum, London

This is a revival of a production first seen in 2005. The three sailors are making their ENO debuts – as is June Whitfield – whilst the majority of the cast and production team are returning to perform and stage this heart-warming show.

Set in 1944 (the year of its first production), “On the Town” was a ‘first’ for those who created it. Leonard Bernstein’s score is notable for its integration – a ‘symphonic’ approach to the dance music is especially striking, as is the allocation of musical motifs to characters. Gabey is singled out for particularly sympathetic treatment, and it is good to find that a number cut in 1944 – ‘Gabey’s coming’ – is restored to this staging, since it contains thematic ideas that are associated with him later on. Betty Comden and Adolf Green’s lyrics have lost nothing in their freshness and wit; I found myself wondering where one would find such a sophisticated combination of words and music in today’s West End or on Broadway.

The choreographic element is vital to the scenario; indeed it was Jerome Robbins’s ballet Fancy Free (Bernstein’s first ballet) which gave the idea for the story of “On the Town”. Stephen Mear’s choreography seemed aptly suited to the score and the drama, and is securely and slickly executed.

The story – simple in essence – concerns three sailors who visit New York for the first time on 24-hour shore leave. They are on the look-out for girls and find them. But there is an underlying urgency, given the wartime setting. Will they meet again? A question left unanswered at the conclusion. Jude Kelly has sought to underline the period when the story is set by means of a prologue depicting a ship under fire; in the second-act ballet, there is a further representation of nautical conflict and scenes of greeting and farewell. I do not find such directorial intervention objectionable – it certainly served to ‘place’ the drama in context. Overall, this is an absorbing and convincing production; a largely credible cast delivered lines and music with generally appropriate characterisation. The girls are especially good – Caroline O’Connor a feisty Hildy, relishing her big moments, such as the marvellous ‘I can cook, too’ replete with its double-entendres and her gestures perfectly timed – and suited – to the music.

In fact, throughout, music and movement are unusually well co-ordinated – something that cannot always be said for all London opera stagings. Lucy Schaufer is hilarious in her duet with Ozzie – ‘Carried away’ – and touching in introducing the poignant quartet ‘Some other time’. The sailors do not, perhaps, entirely avoid the impression of being ‘camp’ on occasions, through their singing was usually secure, even if one might prefer a richer baritone voice for the part of Gabey than the personable Joshua Dallas has at his disposal. Rodney Clarke impresses in his multiple roles and it is unusual to find an artist of the calibre of Andrew Shore in a comparatively small part. But he makes the most of it. Janine Duvitski and June Whitfield provide comic cameos, and Alison Jiear is hilarious as the various night-club singers.

Simon Lee’s experience in West End shows – many by Andrew Lloyd Webber – ensures there is good cohesion between stage and pit. But there are one or two numbers which would have benefited from a slightly faster tempo – including the restored ‘Gabey’s coming’ in which I did not enjoy some added trumpet flutter-tonguing nor, elsewhere, some exaggerated clarinet and saxophone ‘slides’. The ballet music, however, is excellently paced allowing one to savour Bernstein’s invention (with some sly references to Prokofiev) and the imaginative instrumentation. It was good to see the superb pianist – Caroline Jaya-Ratnam – credited in the programme.

But I must report that total enjoyment is impaired by the amplification, which has the effect of making some of the voices sound thin. I understand that the orchestra is also ‘slightly’ amplified – but whether associated with this or not, the sonority lacks bass. With voices and instruments at full pelt, the sound is very loud – not always comfortably so.

This should not, however, prevent a visit to the Coliseum to see “On the Town”, which must surely warrant the status of a ‘classic’ piece of American Musical Theatre, affectionately brought to life in this production.

  • The performance reviewed took place on the evening of 27 April 2007, the first night of the revival having been 20 April
  • Performances until 25 May
  • Box Office: 0870 145 0200
  • English National Opera
  • Leonard Bernstein

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