Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 21, 2013

On The Town

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through July 13, 2013
by Shera Cohen

Barrington Stage Company opens each of its summer seasons with a crowd-pleasing musical. “On the Town” continues to fit this format, not solely because it does and will attract audiences – some obvious reasons being that the names of Bernstein, Comden, and Green are attached to it; Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra starred in the movie version; and the setting is the Big Apple – but because BSC mounts top-notch quality productions.

Delightful and joyous, funny and frothy are perfect adjectives for “On the Town.” The plot is simple. It’s the 1940’s, take three young sailors off the boat, land them in NYC, and give them 24-hours for each to find a gal. It is certainly no spoiler to write “mission accomplished.” After all, this is a comedy.

Except for “New York, New York” (not the Liza Minelli NY) most of the tunes will not ring a proverbial bell. That’s okay, just enjoy them. Many are silly (“Caveman Dance” and “I Can Cook”) and a few lean toward serious (“Some Other Time” and “Lonely Town”). While the sailors make for a splendid vocal trio, it is their dancing that unites them and with the audience. When the hoofer ensemble joins them in frequent numbers, “On the Town” becomes a town not to be missed.

With emphasis on dance, one might not expect the excellent quality of each lead as a singer. The men – Clyde Alves, Jay Armstrong Johnson, and Tony Yazbeck – also croon solos, with Yazbeck shining as a fine dancer as well. Two of their ladies sing –Elizabeth Stanley and Alysha Umphress – and Deanna Doyle stands on her head, performs other gymnast feats, and dances. Simply by opening her mouth to talk, Umphress commands the stage. Actually, she doesn’t even need to talk, since her body language shouts out loud. Here is a great young comedic talent.

The direction logically and seamlessly fills every moment of every scene, the choreography feels natural, the pit band of 10 sounds like 20, the costumes and hairdos replicate the era, and the staging offers simplicity. It’s far more important in this musical to make room for a smooth soft-shoe or ballet than the furniture.

Pittsfield is a perfect town for “On the Town.”