Richard and I saw *On the Town* on Broadway on 3/4. It's a musical from 1944 about three sailors on a one-day shore leave in New York, New York. It's a helluva town. The Bronx is up and the Battery's down. The people ride in a hole in the ground. New York, New York - - it's a helluva town! OK I'll stop now. You might have seen the movie, which is a delight, but has only four of the songs from the show. I guess Hollywood thought they could do better than lyrics by the divine Comden and Green and music by Leonard Freakin' Bernstein!
A quick note before I get to my review: we saw THREE celebrities in the audience! They're Broadway people, so my apologies if you don't know who they are - - Debra Monk, Karen Ziemba, and Rebecca Luker. They all look great, and they were having a great time. I was able to restrain myself, I left them alone.
The show had a most peculiar opening. There was a huge American flag on the stage curtain, which is appropriate, because the show is steeped in wartime sentiment. But is it appropriate to open the show with the orchestra playing the national anthem? Of course the audience stood up, some of them singing along. I did NOT because I thought it was cheap and tawdry. I turned to Richard and said, "Am I at opening night at the Lyric Opera of Chicago?" I was not.
Thankfully that touch of jingoism didn't ruin the show. Our friend Gretta saw it a few months ago, and raved about the dancing - - some of the best dancing I've seen on Broadway (Richard thought there was too much dancing, but we'll have to agree to disagree on that one). It was a perfect synthesis of choreography, lighting, and music. You might not think lighting has so much to do with dancing, but twice in the show the number ended with the dancers in a particular movement, a POW from the orchestra and a perfectly timed blackout. Brought the house down, and that's what it's all about, Alfie. Most thrilling of all, the show used a lot of ballet or old school Broadway techniques, maybe things that the average audience member wouldn't be familiar with, but they responded to it anyway because it was so well done. Like in one number the leading lady worked her way around the stage in a semi-circle doing turns, one after another. They've been doing this since *Swan Lake* was a cygnet, and ya know why? Because it works.
What can I say about the score? Mostly it's brilliant - - full of energy and pathos. It looks forward to *West Side Story* but does its own wonderful thing. But there are a few moments where Lenny thinks he should do something highbrow, and those moments sound like Shostakovich or Prokofiev or whoever. And yes, I was waiting for it, and I was not let down - - late in the show, perhaps a piece of Mahler.
I'll mention just two of the performers. Tony Yazbeck was Gabey, the lead sailor, the Gene Kelly role in the movie. He's got the whole package: he has a beautiful voice, and has some very demanding music. His big solo in the first act, "Lonely town", was astonishing, sung with power and grace. And he's a dazzling dancer, full of verve, confidence, and style. I'm already looking forward to his next show, he's only 37 and should have a bright career ahead of him.
The great Jackie Hoffman played Madame Maude P. Dilly, the leading lady's voice teacher, also lots of other small parts over the course of the show. Hoffman is a shameless mugger, and knows when she can go too far with a joke. She is a laugh riot, a total pro. Grade A ham. She had the funniest lines in the show. Here's a sample, an exchange between her and her voice student. I won't transcribe her thick mittel-European accent, you'll have to imagine it yourself:
TEACHER: I wouldn't be reduced to this if I hadn't been driven out of Europe by those people.
STUDENT: The Germans?
TEACHER: The audience.
May I say a few words about the theater? It was at the Lyric Theater on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. You might know it by another name, it's had many - - it opened as the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1998, then became the Hilton Theater in 2005, then the Foxwoods Theater in 2010, now as of 2014 it's the Lyric Theater. I guess the Foxwoods Casino was behind in their payments.
Anyway, most Broadway theaters morph together in the memory, they often look the same as the others, and you don't really remember what you saw where. There are exceptions: the Belasco has a soft spot in my heart because it's where I saw *Follies* in 2001, I also saw *Hedwig and the Angry Inch* there last year. It's a gorgeous old theater, rich in theatrical history. I also love the Lyceum, a smallish house where I've seen many, many great shows: *I Am My Own Wife*, *Souvenir*, *Reasons To Be Pretty*, *Looped*, *The Scottsboro Boys*, *Venus In Fur*, *The Nance*. Richard and I are seeing Kander and Ebb's *The Visit* there in May. The Lyceum seems to be a magnet for good shows.
The Lyric Theater seems to be a magnet for crap! It's a big barn of a theater (1938 seats, as opposed to the Lyceum's 922) and you get the feeling that greedy producers think, "The people will LOVE this show, and think of all the tickets we'll sell!" Cue demonic laughter. The first show I saw there was *42nd Street* - - I saw it with Diane Schoff not long after I moved to New York. I was a good show, but I've never seen such sloppy tap dancing in my life. Fifty people onstage making all kinds of noise but not really seeming to care. The next show I saw was a real stinker: *The Pirate Queen*, by the people who brought us *Les Miz*. Richard and I saw that for free, and it holds the distinction of being the first Broadway show that saw me walk out at intermission! It wasn't the last! Next up: *Young Frankenstein*, or to use its full title, *The New Mel Brooks Musical, Young Frankenstein*. What a crapfest that was, and such a shame, it was so bursting with talent. The next show at the Lyric was the infamous *Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark*. I was able to avoid that one. Obviously you can tell that I loved *On the Town* - - I hope it's a sign that things are looking up for the Lyric Theater.