Marvelous musical revisits 1940s New York
So you’re still annoyed or let down that you can’t get in, or can’t afford, to see Hamilton? Well, here’s a theater-insider’s secret: go to Olney Theatre Center for their splendiferous production of the musical On the Town, and you will have just as much fun and just as much sublime pleasure, for much less money and bother.
Go ahead: feel smug. You’re saving on astronomical ticket prices and steep parking fees. You’re avoiding the crowding and tension. And you can take the grandkids, too.
And now you can quietly feel satisfaction that you have taken the road perhaps less traveled, but to just as rewarding a destination.
The Hamilton audiences are reveling in the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda. And that’s great. But you’ll enjoy the expansive score by Leonard Bernstein, hardly a comedown. And truly outstanding performances in singing, dance and comedy.
This the revival version of the 1944 Broadway hit on which the OK, but watered-down, Gene Kelly-Frank Sinatra film version was based. It’s the tale of three sailors and three gals trying to squeeze all the life they can into the boys’ 24-hour shore leave in New York City. You know, “New York, New York, a helluva town,” where, “the people ride in a hole in the ground.” That one.
Book and lyrics are by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (which started them off on a storied career), and the choreography was originated by the celebrated Jerome Robbins. So it comes from the best musical theater DNA, and it’s a fast-paced 2 hours and 20 minutes of raucous comedy and alternately rousing or dreamy dance numbers held together by Bernstein’s panoramic score.
Director Jason Loewith has a first-rate cast of 22 to work with, including some of the D.C.-area’s best-loved musical-stage stars. Among them are Tracy Lynn Olivera, Bobby Smith, Donna Migliaccio, Sam Ludwig, Rachel Zampelli and Evan Casey.
Smith and Migliaccio have 11 roles between just the two of them, popping up in scene after scene. And they don’t have to steal each and every scene they’re in because they own them, commanding just as much attention as the three gal-and-guy leading pairs.
From ballet to soft shoe
It starts out as a fairly standard, old-fashioned Broadway musical comedy, with “New York, New York” the second number.
But by the fourth song, the awkwardly titled “Presentation of Miss Turnstiles” — with its bluesy rhythms pulsating from Christopher Youstra’s tight orchestra, paired to the lithe but muscular balletic choreography of Tara Jeanne Vallee — the full richness of this show starts to envelop you. Claire Rathbun’s lush soprano soars to operatic fullness in this energetic number.
Casey and Ludwig, as sailors Chip and Ozzie, are joined by Rhett Guter, as Gabey. They’re matched by Olivera as Hildy, Zampelli as Claire, and Rathbun as Ivy, as the romance-struck gals.
Guter and Rathbun have two “Pas De Deux” numbers, where, especially in the first — their part of the magnificent “Lonely Town” sequence — the dance is sublimely expressive, even as the singing is full-throated Broadway. (With special mention due Catherine Mikelson’s contribution on cello.)
That may all sound pretty high-falutin’, but that first “Pas De Deux” is followed by the “Carnegie Hall Pavane,” which lets us enjoy some nice soft-shoe moves.
Lots of laughs
And it’s all played out amidst some very funny, broadly played, and sometimes quite bawdy comedy.
Olivera, particularly, gives a no-holds-barred comic performance as the lusty and commanding Hildy. In comparison, she makes the always formidable Ann Miller in the film version look like she’s playing a nun. Olivera tears up the stage, belting “I Can Cook Too” with Casey’s sailor Chip a delightfully comic partner.
The action speeds up in Act Two, with the Latin undulations of music and movement in “Ya Got Me” creating an infectious sense of merriment that washes over the audience.
The hard-working cast, however, begins here to layer in some emotional expression, a sense of yearning, so that we have some place to go between the laughs.
This is war-time, after all. The boys are just getting the briefest respite from horrors they may have experienced or are about to experience again. And the gals begin to realize they may be left to deal with a dark void created when the guys get back on their ship.
So, enjoy the fact that you won’t get stuck as all those cars clog up trying to get in and out of the Kennedy Center’s parking garage. Take pleasure in the far more pleasant drive out of town to see On the Town at Olney. It’s a helluva show.
On the Town continues through July 22 at Olney Theatre Center’s Mainstage, located at 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd. in Olney, Md.
Showtime Wednesday through Saturday evenings is at 8 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday matinee performances at 2 p.m. There is also a Wednesday matinee on July 11 at 2 p.m.
There is a sign-interpreted performance on Thursday, July 12 at 8 p.m., and an audio-described performance for the blind and visually-impaired Thursday, July 19 at 8 p.m. Post-show discussions follow the Saturday matinee performances on July 7, 14 and 21.
Ticket prices range from $42 to $84, with a $10 discount available for those 65+. Call the Olney Theatre Center Box Office at (301) 924-3400 to make reservations, or visit www.OlneyTheatre.org for tickets and information.
There is free, on-site parking and the facilities are accessible to patrons with mobility impairment. For listening assistance during performances, an infrared system, which amplifies the sound on stage, is available free of charge.