"On the Town" is an undisputed American musical theater classic. So it makes sense that a major theater like the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire would produce a 70th anniversary production of "On the Town," which begins a two-month run starting Wednesday, Aug. 13.
But this acclaimed Broadway musical -- about three World War II sailors visiting New York City on 24-hour shore leave -- isn't performed with anywhere near the same sort of regularity of other groundbreaking shows from the same era such as "Oklahoma!" or "Carousel."
"On the Town"Location: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847) 634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com
Showtimes: 1 and 8 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 4:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday from Wednesday, Aug. 13, through Sunday, Oct. 12.
And if you think you know "On the Town" from the 1949 film version with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, be aware that Hollywood studio MGM trashed most of the original stage score by then-up-and-coming composer Leonard Bernstein in favor of music by in-house songwriters.
So despite classic Bernstein song standards like "New York, New York" and "Lucky to be Me" along with a witty script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, "On the Town" is largely kept out of regular circulation onstage -- in part because of its dance-heavy storytelling structure conceived by the show's original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins.
"This show, from Terry James' mouth -- the executive producer of the Marriott -- was the most difficult show to cast," said choreographer Alex Sanchez on finding just the right performers to star in "On the Town." "You are asking, in our production, our three leading men to do all-singing, all-dancing, all-acting and it's a very difficult and very stylized comedy as well."
Sanchez said Marriott Theatre conducted extensive auditions in Chicago and New York to find the right trio of sailors. They went with Max Clayton as Gabey, obsessed with finding a "Miss Turnstiles" played by Alison Jantzie; Seth Danner as Chip, the touristy sailor aggressively pursued by Hildy, a female taxi driver played by Marya Grandy; and Jeff Smith as Ozzie, the hothead who falls for vocal student Claire, played by Johanna McKenzie Miller.
Jeff Award-winner David H. Bell considers himself lucky to finally get his first crack at directing "On the Town." But he noted that the show's original Broadway ensemble of more than 40 performers would have been divided into a separate musical comedy chorus of actor-singers and a specialized troupe of dancers who could have executed all of Robbins' complex choreography.
"You can't afford 40 people on a stage anywhere these days, and we're doing it with 22," said Bell. "The ballet company and the music theater company are one in the same here, and I think it's the only way to do the show now."
Another major hurdle for choreographers tackling "On the Town" is mentally comparing their own work to the legendary reputation of Jerome Robbins, who would go on to be a major creative force at New York City Ballet once he tired of directing and choreographing such Broadway classics like "Gypsy" and "Fiddler on the Roof."
In fact, "On the Town" grew out of an acclaimed one-act ballet collaboration between Robbins and Bernstein called "Fancy Free" that premiered in New York earlier in that same year of 1944. "Fancy Free" set designer Oliver Smith had the foresight to realize that the ballet's same storyline would also make a smashing musical comedy.
"If I did research (Robbins' original choreography), it would probably just intimidate me more and probably make me freeze ... I cannot in my head think in that manner that I have to one-up Jerome Robbins," said Sanchez, adding that he's already very familiar with Robbins' style. "I never believe that I can do that so I take that out of the picture and just really make it about what ... we can achieve here."