The on-again, off-again George C. Wolfe-directed revival of On The Town now appears to be definitely on. The production, first staged at Central Park's Delacorte Theatre in 1997 under the auspices of the New York Shakespeare Festival, announced June 12 that it will begin previews Oct. 20 at Broadway's biggest theatre, the 1933-seat Gershwin, which loses its current tenant, 1776, June 14.
Most of the show's other variables remain, for the time being, variable. Comedienne Lea DeLaria, who got rave reviews for her performance as a randy cab driver last summer, is scheduled to repeat her performance, but the rest of the casting has not been announced.
The NY Times reported June 12, that NYSF Artistic Director Wolfe has solved the knotty problem of who will be the show's choreographer: Keith Young, a former Twyla Tharp principal dancer, will make his Broadway debut choreographing this nearly through-danced show, based on the ballet Fancy Free. Original choreographer Eliot Feld withdrew from the proposed revival after reviewers questioned his work. Christopher d'Amboise was hired to replace him, but soon left the project owing to "genuine creative differences concerning the dance sequences that could not be resolved," between Wolfe and d'Amboise. The dispute was blamed for postponing the planned Broadway transfer of the successful summer revival last fall.
Rehearsals are now set to start in August. NYSF spokesman Naro said tickets will go on sale sometime mid summer.
The 1944 classic concerns three sailors who try to cram a lifetime of New York experience into a single 24-hour 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, with music by Leonard Bernstein and book/lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green, includes "New York, New York (A Helluva Town)," "Lonely Town," "Another Time," "I Can Cook, Too," "Ya Got Me," and "I Get Carried Away."
The 1997 cast, which performed outdoors at Central Park's Delacorte Theatre, included Jose Llana, Mary Testa and Andy Blankenbuehler. No word yet on whether any will return in 1998, nor about the Central Park design team of Adrianne Lobel (set), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Paul Gallo (lighting) and Jon Weston (sound).
Comden and writing partner Green were on hand at Manhattan's Lincoln Center Triangle Barnes & Noble July 21. 1997, to discuss their work on the original production of On The Town. Playbill On-Line was there. Together the team is responsible for Wonderful Town, The Will Rogers Follies, On the Twentieth Century, and the film of Singin' in the Rain, among many others. In the audience were members of the Central Park cast, plus original cast member Milton Taubman, who created the role of S. Uperman.
More than a hundred people crowded into the performing arts department of the bookstore to hear the discussion and have copies of Comden and Green's book, The New York Musicals of Comden and Green, autographed. The audience, filled mostly with seniors, made a striking contrast to the relatively young cast members. Shirley Fishman, a NYSF dramaturg, moderated the discussion.
"We started working and became an act at the Village Vanguard in 1938," an act that included Judy Holliday, Green began, "I ran into her on the street, I didn't even know Betty quite that well, and I said to her, 'Can you do a one-nighter at a place called the Village Vanguard?' We told her that we'd get five dollars a piece and best of all, none of her friends would ever have to know about it," Green said.
"We couldn't afford to buy material," Comden added, "So we often say we chipped in and bought a pencil, and that's the way we started to write as well as act."
After choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein's success with their ballet Fancy Free, "two young producers said that they should do a full length show. Leonard said he knew just the people to do the book and lyrics -- us," Comden explained. "Well nobody had heard of us. We were reduced to being an act of two, playing at a place called the Blue Angel," said Comden, "And we had never written a show!" Green interjected.
Comden and Green got the job, "and wrote ourselves two fat parts," Comden said, "We thought, that show, we could get into because we knew the authors. Even so, we had to audition for George Abbott."
"Tell us all about the document that you drew up for us and we signed," Green told Comden.
"The first day that we met up in my apartment, Lenny [Bernstein] and Jerry [Robbins] and the two of us, I had a long yellow pad and wrote at the top 'credo' and we wrote down the principles that we were going to adhere to in writing this first show," said Comden, "We wanted everything to work as an integrated unit, songs and dancing and story all growing out of one and other. We didn't want to do anything pretentious, or anything false or anything blown-up." That document is now in the Library of Congress.
The creative team and company had only 10 days to work with director Abbott in Boston before opening in New York. "We wrote a song out of town called 'Some Other Time'," Comden remembered, "And on a very snowy night in December we looked for a place to rehearse it and we were in the window of a music store right on the Commons. Lenny was at the piano and taught us the harmonies," a song that Oscar Hammerstein later told Green he wished he had written.
As both writers and performers, Comden and Green had a very rushed and stressful time before opening. "We were unable to appreciate all the excitement and all the beauty of what had happened to us, we were worrying about losing a laugh, and that's what it is to be an actor," Comden said.
December 28, 1944: "It was a wonderful opening night at a theatre the Shuberts had got us into called the Adelphi, and had never had a hit play in it. 'House of Flops,' it was known as. It was terribly exciting," said Green.
"The day before, we were relatively unemployed night club performers, and the next morning we had a hit on Broadway," said Comden, "New Year's Eve of the year before, when we were reduced as an act, we got a job in Las Vegas. We opened, we did the first show, and we were fired. The following New Year's Eve On The Town was running. That was a terrific change in our lives."
Green emphasized how excited he was about the new production -- enthusiasm echoed by (then) cast member Llana. "After rehearsing the work for seven or eight weeks now, I see the vitality and I see the excitement that they wanted to express about New York City, being the youths that they [Comden and Green] were when they wrote it," said Llana, who played the sailor Gabey, "It's such a privilege being young and in New York City and it completely mirrors how we feel about life and about New York City."
Cast members also praised director Wolfe. "What's exciting about it is being on Broadway with George Wolfe in a Comden and Green show," Lea DeLaria, the stand-up comic who will again play Hildy this fall, told Playbill On-Line, "Comden and Green virtually define the American musical in the 20th century, they're legends, and so is George. C. Wolfe."