- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - The webs have been swept away, the comic book villains are long gone and even the name of the theater has changed. So what better way to bid farewell to the doomed “Spider-Man” musical at the re-christened Lyric Theatre than with a pure American classic?

An exuberant, dazzling revival of “On the Town” opened Thursday, filling Broadway’s biggest theater with big, crowd-pleasing dance numbers, lavish and clever visuals and superb performances from a massive cast. It’s simply a helluva show.

The 1944 romance-chasing romp by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green - later made into a film with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra - has been celebrated by director John Rando and choreographer Joshua Bergasse, who have filled this lighter-than-air confection with helium.

In this “On the Town,” mannequins and dinosaurs dance, the performers spill into the aisles and the dancers seem to leap into the air like spawning salmon - appropriate, since most of the characters here are jittery, sex-starved maniacs.

The white-suited, bell-bottomed Navy heroes at the show’s center - Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Clyde Alves - are brilliant as young men trying to cram in a year’s worth of fun into 24 hours of shore leave.

Though at first they appear as indistinguishable as three marshmallows, each of their personalities soon emerge. Yazbeck delivers his solo “Lonely Town” with a wonderful ache, Johnson seems to be made of rubber, and Alves oozes testosterone.

The women they meet - Alysha Umphress as a brassy taxi driver, Elizabeth Stanley as a twitchy, repressed anthropologist and real-life ballerina Megan Fairchild as a pinup - are up to the challenge and each couple generates enough sparks to fuel the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And Jackie Hoffman is hilarious as a tipsy vocal coach.

The revival seems to have tapped into the youthful exuberance at the time of its creation - Bernstein, Comden and Green were still in their 20s in 1944. While the story itself may not be layered, the show is a mix of ballet, opera, jazz and musical-theater styles, as well as silliness and wistfulness. It was the original mash-up.

Beowulf Boritt’s sets and projections are big and colorful without being overwhelming or cluttered. His interiors have a fun, off-kilter perspective, his museum interior is inspired and the delightful come-hither number “Come Up to My Place” is superbly done with just a car seat, projected cartoon streets and two hysterical, physical actors in Umphress and Johnson, who also nail a funny “I Can Cook Too.”

Bergasse has hewed close to Jerome Robbins’ original choreography and he’s been blessed by dancers who make mincemeat of several pas-de-deux. Fairchild, a principal dancer at the prestigious New York City Ballet, makes her Broadway debut and is impossible to stop watching.

Jess Goldstein’s costumes are both slinky and eye-catching, matching the overall look of the show, which stresses primary colors. There are rich blues and reds and obviously sailor whites - an American theme that starts as soon as “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played at the beginning. Welcome back, sailors. Hopefully, you’ll stick around a long time.


Online: https://www.onthetownbroadway.com


Mark Kennedy can be reached at https://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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