On the Town
High spirits, drive, and lively interplay make this musical comedy a peppy peach of a show, a real swell treat
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., April 18, 2008
On the Town
Mary Moody Northen Theatre, through April 20
Running time: 2 hr, 10 min
The clock is running from the minute the curtain rises on this 1944 musical comedy. Its heroes – three best-buddy sailors on shore leave – have just 24 hours to take in all the wonders that New York City has to offer, and they're dead-set on seeing them all. So at the chiming of six bells, these fresh-faced servicemen, spick-and-span in their navy whites, bound onto the stage and musically proclaim: "New York, New York! A helluva town!" It's a joyful jolt of theatrical energy – really, is there a more exuberant entrance in the American musical theatre? – that sets the tempo for the show's race against time.
And when it's sold the way it is by David Gallagher, Daniel Adams, and Clay Cartland in the Mary Moody Northen Theatre production, with such youthful verve and heartland sincerity in their shining, open faces, you totally buy their naive notion that they not only can cover all of the Big Apple's 20,000 streets in one spin of the earth but that, out of the city's 2.5 million inhabitants, they can track down one particular female: the fetching Miss Turnstiles for June, whose photograph on a subway poster has captured the heart of one of them. (Of course, this being a musical, the moonstruck sailor is united with his lady love before the day is out – heck, before the sun even hits high noon – and not only that, but his two compadres each get hitched to his own Manhattan hottie.) With their high spirits, drive, and lively interplay, the three male leads – all St. Edward's University seniors, making their farewell appearances on the MMNT stage – lead the way in making this a peppy peach of a show, a real swell treat.
As staged by Ev Lunning Jr., On the Town proves a good fit for St. Edward's. It's no surprise to find the student performers in sync with the rhythms and drives of the young characters, but they also snap to the irreverent wit in the lines by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. As she puts the moves on Adams' doesn't-stand-a-chance Chip, Libby Dees reels off the come-ons and comebacks of Hildy the hack with such speed and sass that you almost hear a whip cracking. Their chemistry is the sharpest of the three couples and the most fun to watch, but there's a sense of camaraderie throughout the entire group that imbues the ensemble number "Ya Got Me" with a genuine sense of companionship and loyalty. And the playfulness that enlivens that number extends throughout the company, whether they're executing Robin Lewis' animated dance steps, playing a nightclub scene, or just briskly crossing the stage as hurried New York pedestrians. They're in tune with the times and with that ticking clock.
Toward the end of the play, the characters see their day drawing to a close and realize that their romances won't have time to blossom. It leads into the lovely ballad "Some Other Time," delivered with a wistful ache by Dees, Adams, Cartland, and Kate Young. Listening to them sing so poignantly – perhaps the finest of many fine moments musical-directed by Michael McKelvey – the thought comes that these young performers are coming to the close of their college days and will soon be separating just as these lovers are. There will be a new crop of students taking their place, just as there are new sailors coming off the ship as Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie go back on it, but the clock is running for us all. Best to seize the day and relish it.