On the Town (musical)

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On the Town
On the Town.jpg
On the Town Cast Recording
Music Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics Betty Comden
Adolph Green
Book Betty Comden
Adolph Green
Basis Fancy Free, ballet by Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein
Productions 1944 Broadway
1949 Film
1963 West End
1971 Broadway revival
1998 Broadway revival
2007 English National Opera
2008 Encores! concert
2014 Broadway revival

On the Town is a musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, based on Jerome Robbins' idea for his 1944 ballet Fancy Free, which he had set to Bernstein's music. The musical introduced several popular and classic songs, among them "New York, New York", "Lonely Town", "I Can Cook, Too" (for which Bernstein also wrote the lyrics), and "Some Other Time". The story concerns three American sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City during wartime 1944. Each of the three sailors becomes enamoured of a particular woman — and of the city itself.

On the Town was first produced on Broadway in 1944 and was made into a film in 1949 - although the film replaced all but three of the original Broadway songs with Hollywood-written substitutes. The show has enjoyed a number of major revivals. The musical integrates dance into its storytelling: Robbins made a number of ballets and extended dance sequences for the show, including the "Imaginary Coney Island" ballet.


The Jerome Robbins ballet "Fancy Free" (1944), with music by Leonard Bernstein, was a hit for the American Ballet Theatre, and Oliver Smith (the set designer) and his business partner, Paul Feigay, thought that the ballet could be turned into a Broadway musical. They convinced Robbins and Bernstein, who in turn wanted their friends Comden and Green to write the book and lyrics. When the director George Abbott was added to the project funding was secured, including funding from the movie studio MGM in return for the film rights.[1]



On the Town premiered on Broadway at the Adelphi Theater on December 28, 1944, directed by George Abbott and with choreography by Jerome Robbins. It closed on February 2, 1946, after 462 performances. The production starred John Battles (Gabey), Cris Alexander (Chip), Nancy Walker (Hildy), Sono Osato (Ivy), Betty Comden (Claire), and Adolph Green (Ozzie). The musical director was Max Goberman.[2]

The first Broadway revival opened at the Imperial Theatre on October 31, 1971, and closed on Jan 1, 1972 after 73 performances. Donna McKechnie, Phyllis Newman, and Bernadette Peters co-starred as Ivy, Claire, and Hildy. The director and choreographer was Ron Field. Peters received a nomination for the 1972 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. In his review for The New York Times, Clive Barnes wrote that "the book and lyrics...have ease and a decent few laughs...The music...has worn less well, too many of the nostalgic ballads sound like sub-Pucini filtered through Glenn Miller...Mr. Field has staged the musical numbers with zest and imagination, but, with respect, he is no great shakes as a choreographer...Where Mr. Field is most successful is in the performances of his six principals, and the women are markedly better than the men. Best of all is Bernadette Peters as the Bronxly nasal taxi driver...Phyllis Newman as Claire also danced and sang with just the right style and gusto. Donna McKechnie made a sweet and talented Ivy Smith."[3]

The second Broadway revival opened on November 19, 1998, and ran for 69 performances. This began as a summer production of the Public Theater; the show made use of its venue, Central Park's Delacorte Theater in beguiling ways that led critics to disparage the subsequent theater-bound Broadway edition as lifeless and bland by comparison.[4] Lea Delaria's performance as Hildy the taxi driver (and especially her all-stops-out rendition of "I Can Cook, Too") won wide praise, with Ben Brantley writing "Working through the saucy double-entendres and scat embellishments of I Can Cook Too, Hildy's mating call of a solo, Ms. DeLaria makes an obliging captive of anyone watching her."[4] That was not, however, on its own enough to extend the show's brief run. Mary Testa was nominated for the 1999 Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical; Lea Delaria was nominated for the Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical and won the Theatre World Award.

Although both of the show's Broadway revivals had their admirers, neither was commercially successful.

A "developmental dance lab workshop", directed by John Rando was held in December 2013, with a Broadway production "anticipated for early 2014."[5] The revival is expected to be produced on Broadway at the Lyric Theatre in October 2014, directed by John Rando with choreography by Joshua Bergasse.[6]

Other US

A production of "On The Town" opened in June 2013 at Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts. John Rando directed the production and Joshua Bergasse choreographed. The production starred Tony Yazbeck (Gabey), Clyde Alves (Ozzie), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip), Alysha Umphress (Hildy), Deanna Doyle (Ivy), Elizabeth Stanley (Claire), Michael Rupert (Judge Pitkin) and Nancy Opel (Madame P. Dilly). In his review Ben Brantley wrote: "John Rando's production of 'On The Town,' the 1944 musical about three sailors on shore leave in New York City, is one of those rare revivals that remind us what a hit show from long was originally all about. The joy of Mr. Rando's production is in its air of erotic effortlessness." [7]

An Encores! staged concert was presented at New York City Center from November 19, 2008 through November 23, 2008, as part of a citywide celebration of Leonard Bernstein's 90th birthday. John Rando was the director, Warren Carlyle the choreographer, with a cast that featured Justin Bohon (Chip), Christian Borle (Ozzie), Tony Yazbeck (Gabey), Jessica Lee Goldyn (Ivy), Leslie Kritzer (Hildy Esterhazy), Jennifer Laura Thompson (Claire DeLoone), and Andrea Martin (Madame P. Dilly).[8]

In reviewing this production, Charles Isherwood wrote: "The production is rich in dance ... and winning performances (particularly from Tony Yazbeck as the lovelorn sailor Gabey, and a scenery-devouring Andrea Martin as a nutso-dipso voice teacher), but it's richest of all in music. There are several ballet sequences, instant reprises, jazzy pop songs, classical spoofs and soaring ballads."[9]


The first London production of On the Town opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre on May 30, 1963, but ran for only 63 performances.[10] It was directed and choreographed by Joe Layton and starred Elliott Gould and Don McKay. The main female roles were taken by two Americans, Carol Arthur and Andrea Jaffe, and an English actress, Gillian Lewis. It was not a propitious time for new musicals in London, given dramatic developments that year in British popular music. A month earlier, Bock and Harnick's She Loves Me had opened on Broadway and ran for some 300 performances, but flopped when it came to London in 1964, not least because people thought the title had something to do with the Beatles.[11]

In 1992, Michael Tilson Thomas led the London Symphony Orchestra and an all-star, crossover cast of opera and theater performers in a semi-staged concert version produced by Deutsche Grammophon and recorded for both CD and video release. Participants included Frederica von Stade, Thomas Hampson, Tyne Daly, Cleo Laine, David Garrison, Samuel Ramey, and, as both narrators and performers, Comden and Green themselves. The resulting recordings included material cut at various stages of the musical's development.[12] Thomas revived this concert edition of the work in 1996 with the San Francisco Symphony, with many of the same performers.

On The Town is now part of English National Opera's repertoire, most recently running April 20–May 25, 2007, at the London Coliseum, with Caroline O'Connor as Hildy.Choreographer Stephen Mear[13]

1949 film version[edit]

The MGM film opened on December 8, 1949. It starred Gene Kelly as Gabey (who also co-directed with Stanley Donen), Frank Sinatra as Chip, and Jules Munshin as Ozzie, as well as Ann Miller (Claire), Vera-Ellen (Ivy) and Betty Garrett (Hildy). The film dispensed with many of the Bernstein songs, other than "New York, New York," and replaced them with new songs by Roger Edens.

Plot summary[edit]

On a summer morning during World War II, it's 6 a.m. at the Brooklyn navy yard ("I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet"). Three sailors—Chip,Ozzie, and Gabey—begin their 24-hour shore leave, eager to explore "New York, New York". Gabey falls in love with the picture of "Miss Turnstiles," who is actually Ivy Smith. The sailors race around New York attempting to find her in the brief period they have ("New York, New York").

They are assisted by, and become romantically involved with, two women, and pair up: Ozzie with Claire DeLoone (an anthropologist) and Chip with Hildy Esterhazy (an amorous and aggressive taxi driver). Hildy invites Chip to "Come Up to My Place". Claire and Ozzie get "Carried Away" in the museum. But for Gabey it's a "Lonely Town" until he finds Ivy ("Miss Turnstiles"). The group have a number of adventures before their leave ends and they must return to their ship to head off to war, and a very uncertain future ("Some Other Time").

Musical numbers[edit]

Cut Numbers
  • Gabey's Comin'—Gabey, Ozzie, Chip and Girls
  • Ain't Got No Tears Left—Nightclub singer
  • The Intermission's Great—Ensemble


During the nightclub sequence in act two, a conga vamp is prominently played. Bernstein later lifted this vamp directly and used it as the basis of "Conga!" in his score to Wonderful Town.


  1. ^ Laird, Paul R. and Everett, William A. The Cambridge Companion to the Musical (2002), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-79639-3, p. 174
  2. ^ BroadwayWorld.com
  3. ^ Barnes, Clive. "Theater: 'On the Town,' Bernstein's 1944 Musical" The New York Times (abstract), November 1, 1971, p. 54
  4. ^ a b Brantley, Ben."Theatre Review:Love in a Hurry on a Busy Shore Leave", The New York Times, November 23, 1998
  5. ^ Gans, Andrew. "'On the Town', Directed by John Rando, Is Aiming for Broadway in 2014" playbill.com, October 16, 2013
  6. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Broadway Revival of 'On the Town' Will Open at Newly Renamed Lyric Theatre in October" playbill.com, March 6, 2014
  7. ^ Brantley, Ben.[1]The New York Times, June 2013
  8. ^ Gans, Andrew."A Helluva Town: Encores! Launches New Season with On the Town", playbill.com, November 19, 2008
  9. ^ Isherwood, Charles."Theatre Review:Drop Me Off at Broadway, 1944",The New York Times, November 21, 2008
  10. ^ "On the Town" listing for 1963 at the Guide to Musical Theatre
  11. ^ Sheridan Morley, notes for First Night CD of 1994 London cast recording of She Loves Me. The Beatles' record, She Loves You, was a massive hit in 1963. The so-called "British invasion" of the United States began early the following year with the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
  12. ^ "Bernstein: On The Town", album details arkivmusic.com
  13. ^ Gans, Andrew."English National Opera's On the Town — with Palmer and O'Connor — Begins April 20", playbill.com, April 20, 2007

External links[edit]