America’s musical legacy is celebrated in an effervescent On the Town, bubbling over in honor of the centenary of composer Leonard Bernstein and the opening of the sixth season for Resonance Works. It’s a joyful tribute to New York, New York, and those military service members–in this story, sailors!–who get only a few precious hours of shore leave. Where better to spend your given 24 hours than NYC?
Three sailors hit the shore in Brooklyn to set off on a kind of romantic scavenger hunt. It’s 1944. Who doesn’t love Fleet Week when sailors are seen all over Manhattan? As there are four other boroughs to explore, the young men set out to see it all in “just one day.” There they discover women on the homefront are at work in all kinds of jobs to pay their big-city rent.
On the Town is indeed a perfect confection. Also known as a movie musical (that features almost an entirely different host of songs!), the show perpetuated a theme song the city has claimed, ”New York, New York” (it’s a helluva town!) and a bevy of other fun numbers. In Resonance Works’ concert version–playing again only on Sunday at 3 pm –some of the region’s favorite singers and guest artists focus on Bernstein’s gorgeous melodies.
Here, songs with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and orchestral pieces that were cut for the original Broadway show are restored. The reward is even more fantastic music, written and scored by Bernstein in all his youthful possibility. You’ll hear the foreshadowing of works to come and also relish solo turns featuring flutist Lindsay Goodman and members of the Brass Roots on sax. Percussion played by Nick Hunceynutt and timpanist Abby Langhorst shine. In this full orchestration, strings, winds, and Uliana Kozhevnikova on the piano stand out, too.
And Comden and Green’s sophisticated lyrics are witty and full of grown-up fun. The writers’ own concert narration is read expressively by the liquid-voiced singer Demareus Cooper.
The maestro is Resonance Works Founder and Artistic Director Maria Sensi Sellner, plying her precision and passion to this rare portion of Bernstein’s catalog. Sellner’s vision has again brought audiences a performance to treasure to kick off this “On the Shoulder of Giants” season.
The Brass Roots ensemble and the Resonance Chamber Orchestra showcase Bernstein’s musical daring as an accompaniment but also fill the Hazlett space with some memorable symphonic passages. Sound by Kristian Tchtechko is spot on with lead singers amplified, an appropriate choice for the Hazlett. Lighting by Jessie Lynn Smith provides the thoughtful yet subtle illumination suited for this lively concert.
Valerie Rachelle, artistic director of the Oregon Cabaret Theater in her Pittsburgh debut, stages On the Town both cleanly and imaginatively. Rachelle makes good use of the orchestra itself as a playing area as well as a balcony against the brick back wall. There are some fun interactions with conductor Sellner and when props magically appear with the help of chorus members. The show flows in almost real time as the sailors very long day (like NYC, they never sleep!) is compressed into 2.5 hours. The entire company fills the intimate space where all seats are near or practically in the action, emphasizing the rarity of this experience.
As in other concert productions, Resonances relies on the music to the do the talking. Here the singers are all delightful actors and projections allude to city settings and include some fun retro views.
Every singer in this cast is a standout, navigating dance moves, physical comedy, and vocal demands impeccably. Back again are Carnegie Mellon alums Patrick McNally and Gillian Hassert. McNally is a charming Ozzie and Hassert is a terrific comedienne who can sell a song with the best of them.
Christopher Scott is charming as Gabey, the sailor who searches for romance until almost the last minute. His soulful “Lonely Town” evokes the solitary nature of even the busiest city. Benjamin Robinson as Chip is darling and perfectly paired with Hassert. Their bumpy taxi ride is hilariously staged with Hildy as cabbie and Robinson surviving his first jaunt around town as Hassert implores him to “Come Up to My Place.” The double entendre is great fun and movement employing a whisk and a floating steering wheel.
Rebecca Shorstein again shares her top vocal and comedic chops, this time as Claire de Loone, a flirtatious anthropologist who can’t resist a night on the town despite her own engagement. Jonathan Stucky with his lush and soothing bass is her long-suffering finance but also opens the show at with “I Feel Like I am not out of Bed Yet” at the Brooklyn shipyard.
The ever-versatile Anna Singer is delightfully funny as the boozy voice teacher Madame Maude P. Dilly, and in multiple turns, as late-night entertainers in the club that the sailors visit. Lauren Corcoran Emrich debuts comically and sings sweetly as Hildy’s sneezing roommate.
The poignant “Some Other Time” is a wistful send-off by quartet Shorstein, Hassert and McNally and Robinson. One of Bernstein’s masterfully beautiful songs (equal to “Somewhere” in West Side Story or “Make Our Garden Grow” in Candide), it achingly brings home the reality of how deployment removes loved ones from the cherished moments of everyday life. The entire company is transfixed by Coopers’s touching reprise as the show’s finale.
Overall, On the Town buoys the spirits like a tap dance by Little Orphan Annie or Shirley Temple in this love letter to New York. Sit back and let the waves of Bernstein’s genius and Comden and Green’s wit wash over you! You’ll find yourself smiling a lot and may have a few sweet tears, too.
Reserved seating tickets start at $25 for the remaining performance of On the Town this Sunday at 3 pm with student and senior discounts available. Intermission is fun with snacks on sale as well as beverages you may take into the house. Parking in the Allegheny Health garage is only $7 and practically next to the New Hazlett Theater. For details and tickets, visit www.resworks.org/tickets or call (412) 501-3330.
Photography by Alisa Innocenti
Yvonne Hudson, a Pittsburgh-based writer, publicist, actor, and singer, joined PITR as a writer and adviser in February 2016. She began performing and writing during high school in Indiana, PA. The Point Park journalism grad credits her Globe editor for first assigning her to review a play. Yvonne is grateful to Dr. Attilio Favorini for master’s studies at Pitt Theatre Arts, work at Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, and believing in her Shakespearean journey. When not working with nonprofits, this lifelong chorister sings with Calvary UM Church’s annual Messiah choir. Having played Juliet’s Nurse for Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks, Yvonne is now seen in her solo shows, Mrs Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson: The Poet Lights the Lamp. Goals: See all of Shakespeare’s plays in production and memorize more Sonnets. Fave quotes: “Good deed in a naughty world,” “Attention must be paid,” and “A handbag?” Twitter @msshakespeare Facebook: PoetsCornerPittsburgh LinkedIn
Categories: Archived Reviews