Regent's Park is already full of birdsong, but each summer the birds are given human competition when the Open Air Theatre stages its annual musical. Usually that comes in late July or August, but now it has been moved to open the season -- and summer couldn't, in this case, have come soon enough!
On the Town is one of the great, enduring masterpieces of Broadway's golden age, a stretch that was inaugurated by the opening of Oklahoma! in 1943 and which this show followed in 1944. While one is set in the hillbilly west and the other in a modern, pulsing, sex-mad Manhattan, they share a vibrant, explosive tunefulness and the use of dance to create their worlds and tell their stories.
Drew McOnie, the latest and most important addition to theatreland's top tier of choreographers, is just 31-years-old, who just seven years ago was a finalist on the first series of So You Think You Can Dance. But returning to the Open Air a year after his Olivier nominated work on Jesus Christ Superstar (a production that will return later this summer), he ups the ante again, creating a propulsive canvas of dynamic, athletic movement that keeps the show on the move throughout.
From the quiet beginning of "I Feel Like I'm not out of bed yet," as the sun comes up over the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the show quickly explodes with the disembarking of three navy sailors for twenty-four shore leave with "New York, New York" -- not the Kander and Ebb classic that Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra made famous, but an earlier Leonard Bernstein classic that provides an instant travelogue to that fabulous city: "The Bronx is up and the Battery's down/ The people ride in a hole in the ground/ New York, New York, it's a wonderful town!"
It also lays out their mission: "We've got one day here and not another minute/ To see the famous sights/ We'll find the romance and danger waiting in it/ Beneath the Broadway lights/ But we've hair on our chests/ So what we like the best are the nights."
And what a night they duly have -- and give us. The cartoon strip of a story has them trying to find the winner of that month's Miss Turnstiles competition whose poster they see on the subway -- but meanwhile finding other romantic, or at least sexual opportunities, with a female New York cab driver and a museum anthropologist who are both clearly sex addicts.
As the three sailors -- a stunning Danny Mac as Gabey, Samuel Edwards as Ozzie and with Jacob Maynard stepping in as Chip to replace Fred Haig as Chip who sustained a foot fracture during a preview -- variously and intoxicatingly become involved with Siena Kelly's Ivy, Lizzy Connolly's Hildy and Miriam-Teak Lee's Claire respectively, the score erupts with passion and pleasure, wit and grit. Itt is gorgeously sung and punchily played by Tom Deering's brassy orchestra. But it is the dancing that is the stand-out, and with the West End currently also featuring the ballet-based An American in Paris and the tap-dance storm of 42nd Street, there's never been a better time to see dance being so exhilaratingly celebrated on the London musical stage.
What the Press Said...
"As delicious as ice-cream on a hot summer’s day."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"It looks exquisite, and sounds gorgeous."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"Best appreciated by the head rather than the heart."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard