Expected last season and, for months, a doubtful candidate for this season, George C. Wolfe's On The Town has finally made it to Broadway, starting previews Oct. 20 for an official opening Nov. 19 at the Gershwin Theatre.
A hit at the NY Shakespeare Festival/Public Theatre's Shakespeare in the Park outdoor series two seasons ago, Town 's Broadway plans were postponed due to several factors, including the imposing size of the Gershwin, a New York Times review that negatively assessed the show's original choreography, and the difficulty of regrouping cast members so many months later. Nevertheless, in a fall season that has already seen five shows open and close, the Comden & Green musical comedy looks to be one of the major openings of the year.
The rehearsal-room door of the Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival cracked open Oct. 1 to allow the media a glimpse at three numbers from the revival. Cast members sang "New York, New York," "Come Up to My Place" and "Do Do Re Do" -- in street clothes and dance wear -- for invited guests at the 890 Broadway studios, introducing the work of new-to-Broadway choreographer Keith Young, a onetime principal with Twyla Tharp's company.
Young is the third name connected to the choreography of the Public revival of On the Town. Eliot Feld staged the dances for the Public's 1997 summer staging of the 1944 musical at Central Park's Delacorte Theatre, to mixed reviews. Christopher d'Amboise was then hired but left after creative differences with director George C. Wolfe. The dispute was blamed for postponing the planned Broadway transfer of the revival last fall. Brash comedian Lea DeLaria got the best reviews of that staging.
Asked about entering the shadow of the late Jerome Robbins, On the Town 's original 1944 choreographer, who died over the summer, choreographer Young told Playbill On-Line: "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 musical about three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in New York City was inspired by the Robbins-Leonard Bernstein ballet, "Fancy Free," and was adapted with the collaboration of librettist-lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green (who were in attendance at the Oct. 1 "open rehearsal").
The choreography is all new, Young says: "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 says 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, on hand, said 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," he told Playbill On-Line. "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 Lea DeLaria, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Robert Montano, as libidinous cab driver Hildy, naive sailor Chip and girl-crazy sailor Ozzie, respectively. All three were part of the sneak peek, with DeLaria and Ferguson singing "Come Up to My Place" in a mock-up of Hildy's cab.
Mary Testa (as Madame Dilly, from the Delacorte staging), newcomer Tai Jimenez (formerly of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, as Ivy) and the women of the company performed Ivy's dance-class number "Do Do Re Do," with Testa drawing her colleagues' laughter as the dippy classical teacher instructing her students about forsaking sex for their art.
Other new additions to the cast are Sarah Knowlton (as Claire DeLoone) and Perry Laylon Ojeda (as lovestruck sailor, Gabey). Ojeda, whose credits include Blood Brothers and the one-man performance piece, Trick, sang and danced in the "New York, New York" opening number Oct. 1, but Knowlton was not part of the 20-minute event.
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.
The classic show concerns three sailors who try to cram a lifetime of New York experience into their 24-hour World War II-era leave. All three fall in love during the day's span of madcap adventures, and all must say bittersweet farewells as their day in Manhattan ends, and a new day starts for another trio.
The score, which includes dream ballets, also serves up the songs "I Can Cook, Too," "Ya Got Me" and "(I Get) Carried Away."
For tickets and information on On The Town call (212) 307-4100.