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Review: Bernstein Goes to 'Town' at Tanglewood
By Nancy Salz, iBerkshires columnist
02:56PM / Monday, July 09, 2018
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Photo by Hilary Scott 'On the Town,' which premiered in 1944 during World War II, had a unique performance in front of the Boston Pops Orchestra at Tanglewood on July 7.

What a rare and delicious treat – a large Boston Pops Orchestra playing Leonard Bernstein's musical "On the Town" behind a stellar Broadway cast dancing and singing to perfection. The performance took place at Tanglewood on the evening of July 7 before a huge, enthusiastic audience. It was part of this summer's Bernstein 100 birthday celebration. Even the weather was in the cool, comfortable 60s.

The musical, Bernstein's first, is based on Jerome Robbins's ballet idea, "Fancy Free." With book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, "On the Town" premiered in 1944 during World War II. Between the movie and the four major Broadway revivals – not to forget one stellar production at Barrington Stage in 2013 that moved to Broadway – it's a bet you know the story.

As the show begins, it is just before 6 a.m. at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the dock where a ship is berthed. Three-time Tony Award nominee Marc Kudisch, playing a dock worker, operatically sings the aria-like "I Feel like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet."

At 6 a.m., the three lead sailors Gabey (Brandon Victor Dixon), Ozzie (Andy Karl) and John "Chip" Offenblock (Christian Dante White) bound onto the stage and burst into "New York, New York." The three horny sailors then head for the subway to see New York, "a helluva town," and meet girls. During a subway ride, Gabey falls in love with a poster of Miss Turnstiles/June. His two friends agree to help him find her, and they all split up to follow clues from the poster bio.

Chip wants to sightsee instead of searching but gets seduced by his taxi driver, Hildy, aka Brunhilde Esterhazy. (Megan Lawrence) Ozzie, thinking he's at the Museum of Modern Art, finds himself in front of a dinosaur at the Museum of Natural History instead, where he encounters an uptight paleontologist, Claire De Loone (Laura Osnes), and they soon leave for her apartment where they are surprised by her always "understanding," older fiancé, Judge Pitkin W. Bridgework (Marc Kudisch in a second role).

Gabey heads off to Carnegie Hall and discovers the woman he is searching for, Ivy Smith, Miss Turnstiles/June  (Georgina Pazcoguin) taking a singing lesson with her inebriated teacher, Madame Maude P. Dilly (Andrea Martin). Ivy and Gabey fall for each other immediately and agree to meet at a Times Square Nedick's at 11 p.m. When Ivy doesn’t show up, Hildy arranges a date for stood-up Gabey with her headcold-challenged roommate, Lucy Schmeeler (Megan Sikora) Eventually after a night-club bar hop Gabey meets up with Ivy, who is earning money for her singing lessons by working as a Coney Island hootchy-dancer.

As Gabey, Brandon Victor Dixon, got to sing two of the most beautiful songs Bernstein ever wrote: "Lonely Town" and "Lucky to Be Me." He did them proud. Christian Dante White's Chip was charming, funny and nimble in his pratfalls. But Olivier Award winner Andy Karl, as Ozzie, attracted all the attention when he was on the stage in any capacity. He's a quadruple threat – singer, dancer, actor and comedian.

Andrea Martin was gloriously inebriated the whole time she was on stage and stole all her scenes. Megan Sikora as Lucy Schmeeler sneezed with great aplomb! Only Megan Lawrence as Hildy disappointed. She wasn't quite able to belt her character's famous songs, "I Can Cook Too" and "Come Up to My Place." For some reason she was made up to look far older than her 46 years. Her love scenes with Christian Dante White were embarrassing. The reliable Laura Osnes hilariously and beautiful sang "Carried Away."

"On the Town," usually a big dancing show, had to cut back on the dancing because of the small space in front of the orchestra. That didn't stop Kathleen Marshall, director and choreographer, from inventing appealing, original dance steps rehearsed and performed beautifully. Even New York City Ballet soloist, Georgina Pazcoguin, got to show us her moves as Ivy.

Of course, a very special part of the evening was Bernstein's sublime dance orchestrations played by the Pops alone. We heard the beginnings of his unique harmonies and could even hear future Bernstein compositions in them. The Comden and Green book and lyrics were often hilarious. And those names!

There really was no scenery and none was needed – just a few abstract projections that were misguided. (They didn’t add anything to the production and were easy to ignore.) The appropriate costumes were by Michael Krass.

It was a great evening at Tanglewood. Just four words to the Boston Symphony orchestra about this heavenly "On the Town" performance: Thank you!  More please!

Music by Leonard Bernstein; Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green based on an idea by Jerome Robbins. Concert Narration by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Direction and Choreography by Kathleen Marshall; Music Direction by David Chase; Costumes by Michael Krass; Sound Design by Steve Colby; Lighting Design by Pamela Smith. The Boston Pops Orchestra Conducted by Keith Lockhart
Starring Brandon Victor Dixon, Andy Karl, Megan Lawrence, Laura Osnes, Georgina Pazcoguin, Christina Dante White, Megan Sikora with Marc Kudisch and Andrea Martin.

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