From left, Robert Mintz (Ensemble), Lance E. Hayes (Ensemble), and Rhett Guter (Gabey) in On the Town at Olney Theatre Center/Photo: Stan Barouh
Amidst these days (and weeks, sigh) of turmoil, conflict and depressing news, who doesn't need a fantastic escape?
On the Town at the Olney Theatre Center arrives at the right time with sets, costumes, and songs from the 1940s to make you happy. (Well, it made me so happy, had I not been seated midway in the row, I might have bolted right up on stage and become a dancer meself!)
Claire Rathbun (Ivy) and Rhett Guter (Gabey) in On the Town at Olney Theatre Center/Photo: Stan Barouh
Three sailors come to New York on 24-hour leave in search of women and excitement. (You were expecting something less than romps, laughs, sex, and more?) On the Town is an hilarious trip with music, lots of dancing, and non-stop action.
The sailors set off on a journey to find THE girl whose picture Gabey (Rhett Guter) has seen plastered in advertisements, the winner of the "Miss Turnstiles" competition (huh?). Gabey has fallen in love with a photo, but never mind. Can he find her?
And can his buddies help? They start a hot chase.
From left, Evan Casey (Chip), Sam Ludwig (Ozzie), Rhett Guter (Gabey), and Bobby Smith (Bill Poster) in On the Town, now playing at Olney Theatre Center/Photo: Stan Barouh
Along the way they stumble (surprise!) upon adventure, becoming entangled in rollicking scenes with dancing and song.
Chip (Evan Casey) finds a taxi driver, Hildy (Tracey Lynn Olivera) who has lots of "fares" on her mind (Come Up to My Place), and she can cook!
It doesn't take long for Chip, the initially reluctant participant in this scheme, to join goal tending until the couple is rudely interrupted by Hildy's conservative roommate, Lucy (Suzanne Lane), a mousy creature and dressed for the role par excellence. (Rosemary Pardee's many 1940s costumes are rainbows of pastels and designs, adding more allure to the visuals. In real-life, Chip and Hildy are a happily married couple whose stage passions leave one in awe of the chemistry on display.)
Then there is flash and dash Claire DeLoone (Rachel Zampelli) who teams up with Sailor #3, Ozzie (Sam Ludwig) in-between trying to placate her "understanding" husband (Bobby Smith in one of seven (!) roles he plays).
The show has many standouts, and my favorites were those with multiple roles, perhaps because they were on stage more often: Bobby who, towards the end, makes you happy seeing him appear since you know guffaws lie ahead, "darling," and Donna Migliaccio,
fresh from a real-life stage in New York, and her six (!) roles here. (My fav was the old lady and her mannerisms and "Style 7" walking, but where is a grumpy old man?)
Perhaps the elevations and descents of various entertainers center stage doing their solo performances are a bit overdone, and the lacklustre title really needs some work, but director Jason Loewith, Olney's artistic director, commands excellent performances of all, and never a dull moment passes by.
The numerous scenes (by Court Watson) transform in a whirl, and what appears to be minimalist props are deceptive for scenes are mean to complement, not distract from the script.
The effects and Roc Lee's sounds magnify the "New York, New York" experience with brakes screeching, horns going off and subway rides which sway and lurch, rocking passengers forwards, sideways, and into others.
Live music always makes a more enjoyable performance and Christopher Youstra's baton enriches the show with the big band sounds of 14 musicians onstage playing 17 instruments, the largest orchestra in Olney's history. (None of the vocalists are ever drowned out.)
Choreography by Tara Jean Vallee is stunning, and at times I found myself labeling it a "musical ballet," and it was based on Jerome Robbins' ballet, Fancy Free.
Claire Rathbun's skill as a ballerina (formerly with the Washington Ballet) is apparent in her role as Ivy, "Miss Turnstiles," particularly during the deux pars de deux when she and Gabey dance elegantly back to back, gliding across the floor, hugging stage corners and "ignorant" of the other's presence while the ensemble enters the stage from right, from left, to mingle and spin a partner, logistics which prevent "the" couple from ever laying eyes on each another.
From stem to stern, this is another shipshape production for the regional celebration of Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday in Olney's 80th season (and Director Loewith's 50th) which continues to strengthen the theatre's reputation as a delightful locale for live entertainment.
It's just another 24-hour day. Whatcha gonna do with yours? Tempus fugit.
Rounding out the cast are Ian Anthony Coleman, Ashleigh King, Amanda Kaplan, Claire Rathbun, Alan Naylor, Connor James Reilly, Shawna Walker, Jennifer Flohr, Lance E. Hayes, Robert Mintz (also, dance captain), Ron Tal, Taylor J. Washington, Ronald Bruce, and Emily Madden.
Other members of the creative team are Colin K. Bills, lighting; Alexandra Pohanka, wigs and hair; Zach Campion, dialects; John Keith Hall, production stage manager; Dennis A. Blackledge, production; and Debbie Ellinghaus, managing director.
What: On the Town with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics, Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832.
When: Extended! Now through July 29, 2018, Wednesday through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., Wednesday matinees July 11 and July 18 at 2 p.m., a sign-interpreted performance Thursday, July 12 at 8 p.m., and an audio-described performance, Thursday, July 19 at 8 p.m. There is no performance Saturday night, July 28.
Tickets: Begin at $42 with discounts for groups, seniors, military, and students.
Ages: Recommended for ages 11+ due to mild sexuality. The Olney rates it "PG."
Duration: Two hours and one 15 minute intermission
Refreshments: Available and may be taken to seats
Parking: Free and plentiful on-site
For more information: 301-924-3400 for the box office or 301-924-4485