A top-notch ‘On the Town’ from Rockville Musical Theatre

The show’s sights are fixed on the joy of living this day — joy that the production gives the audience abundantly.

If you are a fan of good musical theater, there are two reasons that Rockville Musical Theatre’s On the Town is a must-see next weekend.

First, the exuberant 1944 Leonard Bernstein/Jerome Robbins/Adolph Green/Betty Comden collaboration is an all-too-rarely performed gem. Catch it any time you can.

Second, Rockville Musical Theatre’s production is absolutely top-notch, succeeding in every aspect of a show that is demanding of its cast and staff at a professional, let alone community, theater level. Watch Award judges should be watching.

Scene from ‘On the Town.’ Photo courtesy of Rockville Musical Theater.

The plot is simplicity itself. Three young sailors with a 24-hour liberty from their Navy ship seek to experience their first visit to New York — the city’s sights, its ambiance, and most importantly, its girls — in their brief time ashore. They have the time of their lives.

In a show developed from a ballet — the Robbins/Bernstein Fancy Free — dance is the key element. The cast executes director/choreographers Michael Page and Coleen Prior’s movement with unstinting energy and high quality, whether in large ensemble numbers like the “Times Square Ballet” that concludes Act 1, smaller group scenes like the three sailors’ initial, and iconic, “New York, New York,” or intimate pieces like the Coney Island dream ballet between Gabey (Tim Lewis) and Ivy (Kelly Dobkins). Almost everyone is constantly on the move, and Page and Prior deserve credit for seamlessly integrating the work of leads, featured dancers, and ensemble. Keeping some pairs in the ensemble together as couples in a number of the scenes is a sweet touch.

Bernstein’s jazzy, varied score, together with the sometimes witty, sometimes emotional Comden/Green lyrics, is a treasure, far more than simply accompaniment for the dance. There are memorable character numbers, all well sung, such as “I Can Cook Too,” belted by Megan Evans’ sexually voracious Hildy — she’s a “young, pretty, and highly available” taxi driver — as she pounces on the nerdy Chip (Rohan Basuthakur); “Carried Away,” as the only slightly less voracious anthropologist Claire De Loone (Jenny Gleason) takes Ozzie (the limber Scott Napier) on the museum tour of his life; and Gabey’s hopeful “Lucky to Be Me” and wistful “Lonely Town.” For me, the vocal highlight of the evening was the tender, longing quartet “Some Other Time” near show’s end, rendered beautifully by Ozzie, Claire, Chip, and Hildy. Samuel Weich’s 17-piece pit orchestra did full justice to Bernstein’s score.

Characters outside the lead sextet made a strong impression as well. Two of the most memorable voices in the cast belong to baritones who have only one brief song each. William Lewis, playing Judge Pitkin, breaks out of his character’s Amos Hart–like beta male mold with “I Understand.” Bob Bryant starts the show singing a stirring anthem to morning shift grogginess, “I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed.” Bryant then transforms into a mostly wordless cop who would not be out of place in a Mack Sennett silent movie.

Scenes from ‘On the Town.’ Photos courtesy of Rockville Musical Theater.

Amanda Jones provides some fine comic moments as Madame Dilly, Ivy’s manipulative souse of a voice teacher, and as various none-too-inspiring nightclub singers. Mollybeth Rushfield has fun with her character bit as Lucy, Hildy’s roommate, displaying cold symptoms that could put Miss Adelaide’s to shame.

The show’s costume design (Lee Michelle Rosenthal and Duane Monahan) does not emphasize period authenticity, instead offering a kaleidoscope, covering a wide swath of the color palette, expressing visually the swirling energy that pervades the show. Crucial for a dance-centered show, the costumes flow easily with the cast members’ movement.

Because the stage must provide ample floor space for the dance numbers, On the Town cannot be a set-heavy show. The design (Stephanie Wesley, Ray Essick, and Michael Page) involves a stage-right platform in front of a silhouette of the Manhattan skyline. Actors smoothly wheel in and out smaller pieces representing, for example, Hildy’s kitchen or nightclub bars. It looks good and works well.

Andrew R. Dodge’s lighting design projects a series of vivid colors onto the cyc behind the city silhouette and also successfully integrates area lighting with the use of a follow spot in several scenes. The sound design (Matt McNevin) does well at keeping the balance between the singers and orchestra.

On the Town, written when its creators were in their mid-20s, is all about youthful energy, sexual and otherwise, as the sailors do their best to squeeze every bit of life out of their short time in New York. World War II is in the background, but the show’s sights are fixed on the joy of living this day, joy that the Rockville Musical Theatre production abundantly gives to the audience.

Running Time: Two hours, 35 minutes, including one intermission.

On the Town presented by Rockville Musical Theatre plays through November 7, 2021, at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Rockville Civic Center, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville MD. To purchase tickets ($26 adults, $23 students and seniors), call the box office at 240-314-8690 or go online.

Rockville Musical Theatre requires all persons attending On the Town to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative PCR COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of the start of performance and to wear masks while in the theater. The full COVID-19 safety policy is here.


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