If you go to On the Town expecting a paean to the carnal appetites of WWII servicemen on the prowl, you may be pleasantly surprised. In redacting this 1944 classic to appeal to contemporary tastes, director John Rando has underscored the agency of the women involved.
No longer mere prey, they’re huntresses all – even sweet Ivy Smith (New York City Ballet soloist Megan Fairchild, making an auspicious Broadway debut). Though Ivy confesses with chagrin that her night job is that of a Coney Island “cooch dancer,” she has higher aspirations. In fact, Fairchild herself proves the type of triple threat Ivy probably has in mind. For her, the honor of being crowned “Miss Turnstiles” is a mere steppingstone; the prize doesn’t so much go to her head as crank up her ambition.
Little surprise that this peerless poster girl should spark the romantic ideation of a sailor on shore leave. Even though the seamen (Tony Yazbeck, Clyde Alves and Jay Armstrong Johnson, all highly competent) are a bit indistinct, it doesn’t much matter, so outstanding are their proactive, sexually assertive female counterparts.
Seemingly straitlaced anthropologist Claire de Loone (marvelous Elizabeth Stanley), for instance, may claim the excuse of getting “Carried Away” (“They play pizzicato/ And I get blotto”), but clearly she loves the wild side and visits at every opportunity. As for taxi-driver Hildy (vocal phenom Alysha Umphress), her libido is right on the surface. Umphress’ sizzling-hot “I Can Cook Too” takes the cake.
In modernizing, Rando leaves no innuendo unturned. Hurling clothes as they scurry offstage (Jess Goldstein designed the spot-on period costumes), the various pairs make no secret of their intent to enjoy one another’s company in the fullest sense.
Right from the opening tableau, when operatic bass Phillip Boykin intones the soothing refrain “deep in my lady’s arms,” you can sense you’re in for a smooth, seductive ride. Joshua Bergasse’s choreography (replacing the Jerome Robbins original) is smartly variegated and paced. You can count on a dreamy pas de deux, say, soon giving way to a boisterous, palms-on-rumps taxi dance.
This is the first Broadway musical to allow Jackie Hoffman, assuming a panoply of character roles, full rein to exercise her comedic genius. Her tippling Miss Dilly, a patently underqualified voice teacher, is a doozy, as is her recurrent gloomy nightclub crooner (“I Wish I Was Dead”). One only wishes that she were also awarded the role of Lucy Schmeeler, Hildy’s sniffle-afflicted roommate. Hoffman can do nasal like nobody’s business.