For many months, it seemed George C. Wolfe's acclaimed Central Park revival of On The Town was destined to reach Broadway (as the song goes) "Some Other Time." That time has come, however, as the Joseph Papp Public Theatre's production officially opens Nov. 22 at the Gershwin Theatre.
The opening night was recently delayed by three days, from Nov. 19 to Nov. 22, so the dances could be clarified by the fourth choreographer associated with the project. Joey McKneely, the Tony Award-nominated choreographer of The Life and Smoky Joe's Cafe , was been enlisted by director Wolfe to focus some of the dances already choreographed by Keith Young, the Broadway newcomer who has worked with Twyla Tharp's company.
Eyebrows were raised in 1997 when Wolfe announced he would not use the show's original 1944 choreography by Jerome Robbins. The Central Park summer 1997 revival of the musical comedy by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green was director Wolfe's first major traditional musical comedy, although he directed the new Broadway musicals Jelly's Last Jam and Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk. The Public is sole producer of the $5 million On the Town staging at the Gershwin Theatre. The advance sale is around $2.5 million.
Eliot Feld staged the dances for Wolfe's 1997 Central Park On the Town, but reviews were mixed for his work, so Christopher d'Amboise was enlisted for the planned Broadway transfer. Wolfe and d'Amboise apparently had artistic differences. A Broadway transfer was delayed due to Wolfe's kidney failure and successful transplant, and Young was brought in for the 1998 rethinking of the 1997 show.
The current staging is a re-cast version of the 1997 production, keeping Lea DeLaria in the role of man-hungry Hildy. She won raves for the part and, in Gershwin previews, gets the show's final star bow. The musical is drawn from the Robbins-Bernstein ballet, "Fancy Free," about sailors on shore leave in New York City.
Choreographer Young, a former Tharp principal dancer, told Playbill On Line Oct. 1 that he didn't feel weighed down by the spirit of Robbins, who died over the summer: "He was such a remarkable choreographer and he contributed so greatly to the theatre that instead of being frightened or threatened by it, I've chosen to embrace it. I consider him an ally."
The choreography is all new, Young said at the time: "My approach is to walk alongside what has happened, certainly not to create what (Robbins) did." A lover of classical, jazz and modern dance styles, Young said Bernstein's score allows him to create a range of dances -- "everything from the biggest big to the smallest moments; most of all I'm challenged, and feel fortunate."
Director Wolfe told Playbill On-Line Oct. 1 that the large-set show will fill the cavernous Gershwin, where some musicals feel lost. "The Gershwin has a very high house, but we've got a big bridge [in the scenic design]," he said. "There are two shows that I think really have the scale for the Gershwin -- Sweeney Todd, and I think this show is gonna have that. There's a bridge! It's New York City! The scale of the city is there!"
Wolfe said Comden and Green were open to his wish to restructure several moments in the original script, but there were no major additions or subtractions from the breezy plot and score that begat at least three often-sung theatre standards: "Lucky to Be Me," "New York, New York" and "Some Other Time."
Holdovers from the 1997 Public Theater summer staging in Central Park are DeLaria, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Robert Montano, as libidinous cab driver Hildy, naive sailor Chip and girl-crazy sailor Ozzie, respectively. Mary Testa repeats her role as Madame Dilly and newcomer Tai Jimenez, formerly of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, is Ivy.
Other new additions to the cast are Sarah Knowlton (as Claire DeLoone) and Perry Laylon Ojeda (as lovestruck sailor, Gabey). Ojeda's credits include Blood Brothers and the one-man performance piece, Trick.
Also set to repeat their 1997 performances are Jonathan Freeman (She Loves Me) as Pitkin W. Bridgework; Annie Golden (Saturn Returns) as Lucy Schmeeler; and Nora Cole (Jelly's Last Jam) as Diana Dream/Dolores. During rehearsals leading up to the Oct. 20 preview, baritone Gregory Emanuel Rahming replaced Ivan Thomas in the role of the Workman, who sings the verse to the opening number, which begins, "I feel like I'm not out of bed yet..." No reason was given for the cast change.
Adrianne Lobel (set), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Paul Gallo (lighting) and Jon Weston (sound) will repeat their design duties. For tickets and information on On The Town at the Gershwin Theatre call (212) 307-4100.