On the Town (musical)

On the Town (musical)
On the Town
On the Town.jpg
On the Town Cast Recording
Music Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics Betty Comden
Adolph Green
Book Betty Comden
Adolph Green
Basis Fancy Free, ballet by Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein
Productions 1944 Broadway
1949 Film
1963 West End
1971 Broadway revival
1998 Broadway revival
2007 English National Opera
2008 Encores! concert

On the Town is a musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, based on Jerome Robbins' idea for his 1944 ballet Fancy Free, which he had set to Bernstein's music. The musical introduced several popular and classic songs, among them "New York, New York", "Lonely Town", "I Can Cook, Too", and "Some Other Time". The story concerns three American sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City during wartime 1944. Each of the three sailors becomes enamoured of a particular woman — and of the city itself.

On the Town was first produced on Broadway in 1944 and was made into a film in 1949 - although the film replaced all but three of the original Broadway songs with Hollywood-written substitutes. The show has enjoyed a number of major revivals. The musical integrates dance into its storytelling: Robbins made a number of ballets and extended dance sequences for the show, including the "Imaginary Coney Island" ballet.



The Jerome Robbins ballet "Fancy Free" (1944), with music by Leonard Bernstein, was a hit for the American Ballet Theatre, and Oliver Smith (the set designer) and his business partner, Paul Feigay, thought that the ballet could be turned into a Broadway musical. They convinced Robbins and Bernstein, who in turn wanted their friends Comden and Green to write the book and lyrics. When the director George Abbott was added to the project funding was secured, including funding from the movie studio MGM in return for the film rights.[1]



On the Town premiered on Broadway at the Adelphi Theater on December 28, 1944, directed by George Abbott and with choreography by Jerome Robbins. It closed on February 2, 1946, after 462 performances. The production starred John Battles (Gabey), Cris Alexander (Chip), Nancy Walker (Hildy), Sono Osato (Ivy), Betty Comden (Claire), and Adolph Green (Ozzie). The musical director was Max Goberman.[2]

The first Broadway revival opened at the Imperial Theatre on October 31, 1971, and closed on Jan 1, 1972 after 73 performances. Donna McKechnie, Phyllis Newman, and Bernadette Peters co-starred as Ivy, Claire, and Hildy. The director and choreographer was Ron Field. Peters received a nomination for the 1972 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. In his review for The New York Times, Clive Barnes wrote that "the book and lyrics...have ease and a decent few laughs...The music...has worn less well, too many of the nostalgic ballads sound like sub-Pucini filtered through Glenn Miller...Mr. Field has staged the musical numbers with zest and imagination, but, with respect, he is no great shakes as a choreographer...Where Mr. Field is most sucessful is in the performances of his six principals, and the women are markedly better than the men. Best of all is Bernadette Peters as the Bronxly nasal taxi driver...Phyllis Newman as Claire also danced and sang with just the right style and gusto. Donna McKechnie made a sweet and talented Ivy Smith."[3]

The second Broadway revival opened on November 19, 1998, and ran for 69 performances. This began as a summer production of the Public Theater; the show made use of its venue, Central Park's Delacorte Theater in beguiling ways that led critics to disparage the subsequent theater-bound Broadway edition as lifeless and bland by comparison.[4] Lea Delaria's performance as Hildy the taxi driver (and especially her all-stops-out rendition of "I Can Cook, Too") won wide praise, with Ben Brantley writing "Working through the saucy double-entendres and scat embellishments of I Can Cook Too, Hildy's mating call of a solo, Ms. DeLaria makes an obliging captive of anyone watching her."[4] That was not, however, on its own enough to extend the show's brief run. Mary Testa was nominated for the 1999 Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical; Lea Delaria was nominated for the Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical and won the Theatre World Award.

Although both of the show's Broadway revivals had their admirers, neither was commercially successful.

Other US

An Encores! staged concert was presented at New York City Center from November 19, 2008 through November 23, 2008, as part of a citywide celebration of Leonard Bernstein's 90th birthday. John Rando was the director, Warren Carlyle the choreographer, with a cast that featured Justin Bohon (Chip), Christian Borle (Ozzie), Tony Yazbeck (Gabey), Jessica Lee Goldyn (Ivy), Leslie Kritzer (Hildy Esterhazy), Jennifer Laura Thompson (Claire DeLoone), and Andrea Martin (Madame P. Dilly).[5]

In reviewing this production, Charles Isherwood wrote: "The production is rich in dance ... and winning performances (particularly from Tony Yazbeck as the lovelorn sailor Gabey, and a scenery-devouring Andrea Martin as a nutso-dipso voice teacher), but it's richest of all in music. There are several ballet sequences, instant reprises, jazzy pop songs, classical spoofs and soaring ballads."[6]


The first London production of On the Town opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre on May 30, 1963, and ran for 63 performances.[7] It was directed and choreographed by Joe Layton and starred Elliott Gould and Don McKay.

In 1992, Michael Tilson Thomas led the London Symphony Orchestra and an all-star, crossover cast of opera and theater performers in a semi-staged concert version produced by Deutsche Grammophon and recorded for both CD and video release. Participants included Frederica von Stade, Thomas Hampson, Tyne Daly, Cleo Laine, David Garrison, Samuel Ramey, and, as both narrators and performers, Comden and Green themselves. The resulting recordings included material cut at various stages of the musical's development.[8] Thomas revived this concert edition of the work in 1996 with the San Francisco Symphony, with many of the same performers.

On The Town is now part of English National Opera's repertoire, most recently running April 20–May 25, 2007, at the London Coliseum, with Caroline O'Connor as Hildy.Choreographer Stephen Mear[9]

1949 film version

The MGM film opened on December 8, 1949. It starred Gene Kelly as Gabey (who also co-directed with Stanley Donen), Frank Sinatra as Chip, and Jules Munshin as Ozzie, as well as Ann Miller (Claire), Vera-Ellen (Ivy) and Betty Garrett (Hildy). The film dispensed with many of the Bernstein songs, other than "New York, New York," and replaced them with new songs by Roger Edens.

Plot summary

On a summer morning during World War II, it's 6 a.m. at the Brooklyn navy yard ("I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet"). Three sailors—Chip,Ozzie, and Gabey—begin their 24-hour shore leave, eager to explore "New York, New York". Gabey falls in love with the picture of "Miss Turnstiles," who is actually Ivy Smith. The sailors race around New York attempting to find her in the brief period they have ("New York, New York").

They are assisted by, and become romantically involved with, two women, and pair up: Ozzie with Claire DeLoone (an anthropologist) and Chip with Hildy Esterhazy (an amorous and aggressive taxi driver). Hildy invites Chip to "Come Up to My Place". Claire and Ozzie get "Carried Away" in the museum. But for Gabey it's a "Lonely Town" until he can find Ivy ("Miss Turnstiles"). The group have a number of adventures before their leave ends and they must return to their ship to head off to war, and a very uncertain future ("Some Other Time").

Musical numbers

Act I
  • I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet—Workmen
  • New York, New York—Ozzie, Chip and Gabey
  • Miss Turnstiles Ballet (1971 revival)—Contestants, Ivy Smith and Manhattanites
  • Gabey's Comin (not in 1971 revival)—Gabey
  • Come Up to My Place—Hildy Esterhazy and Chip
  • Carried Away—Claire DeLoone, Ozzie, Primitive Man and Primitive Woman
  • Lonely Town—Gabey and Dance Ensemble
  • Carnegie Hall Pavane (Do-Do-Re-Do)—Ivy Smith, Madame Maude P. Dilly, and Women of Carnegie Hall
  • Lucky to Be Me—Gabey and Full Company
  • I Understand (not in 1971 revival)—Pitkin W. Bridgework
  • Carried Away Tag
  • I Can Cook, Too—Hildy Esterhazy
  • Times Square Ballet—Company
Act II
  • Entr'acte—Orchestra
  • So Long, Baby—Diamond Eddie's Girls
  • I Wish I Was Dead (In English & Spanish)—Diana Dream, Senorita Dolores Dolores
  • Ya Got Me—Hildy Esterhazy, Claire DeLoone, Ozzie, and Chip
  • I Understand (Reprise)—Pitkin W. Bridgework and Lucy Schmeeler
  • Playground of the Rich Ballet (1971 revival)—Gabey, Ivy Smith, and High Society Dancers
  • Subway Ride (not in 1971 revival)—Gabey and the People of New York
  • Imaginary Coney Island (not in 1971 revival)—Gabey, Ivy Smith, and Dance Ensemble
  • Some Other Time—Claire DeLoone, Hildy Esterhazy, Ozzie, and Chip
  • The Real Coney Island (not in 1971 revival)—Rajah Bimmy
  • Coney Island Hep Cats (1971)—Flossie, Friend, and Zoot Suit Dancers
  • I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet (Reprise) (not in 1971 revival)
  • Finale: New York, New York (Reprise)—Full Company


  1. ^ Laird, Paul R. and Everett, William A. The Cambridge Companion to the Musical (2002), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-79639-3, p. 174
  2. ^ BroadwayWorld.com
  3. ^ Barnes, Clive. "Theater: 'On the Town,' Bernstein's 1944 Musical" The New York Times (abstract), November 1, 1971, p. 54
  4. ^ a b Brantley, Ben."Theatre Review:Love in a Hurry on a Busy Shore Leave",The New York Times, November 23, 1998
  5. ^ Gans, Andrew."A Helluva Town: Encores! Launches New Season with On the Town", playbill.com, November 19, 2008
  6. ^ Isherwood, Charles."Theatre Review:Drop Me Off at Broadway, 1944",The New York Times, November 21, 2008
  7. ^ "On the Town" listing for 1963 nodanw.com
  8. ^ "Bernstein: On The Town", album details arkivmusic.com
  9. ^ Gans, Andrew."English National Opera's On the Town — with Palmer and O'Connor — Begins April 20", playbill.com, April 20, 2007

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