On the Town Returns to Broadway

posted by Margaret Fuhrer on Friday, Mar 07, 2014
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Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony Yazbeck and Clyde Alves in the 2013 production of On the Town at Barrington Stage Company. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free scored an immediate hit upon its premiere at American Ballet Theatre in 1944. So huge was the response to the innovative ballet, which used a jazz-tinged, distinctly American vocabulary to tell the story of three sailors on leave in New York, that later that year Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein decided to expand it into a full-scale musical.

 

The result, On the Town, ran for 462 performances on Broadway, and included the classic song "New York, New York." Five years later MGM made the musical into an iconic film, starring the likes of Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen. (The movie, however, did away with much of Bernstein's music, keeping only "New York, New York.")

 

Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen
Vera-Ellen and Gene Kelly in a promotional shot for the film of On the Town (1949). Photo courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

 

On the Town has had a couple of Broadway revivals since then—one notable rejiggering in 1972 starred Donna McKechnie, Phyllis Newman, and Bernadette Peters—but its three sailors haven't danced along the Great White Way since 1998. This fall, that'll change: A new production of On the Town is coming to the Lyric Theater in October.

 

Casting has yet to be announced, but we do know that Joshua Bergasse will make his Broadway debut as a choreographer with the show. And if Bergasse's work on the TV series "Smash" is any indication, that means we're in for some well-crafted, eye-popping dancing. In fact, some New Yorkers may have had a preview of what's in store at last fall's Career Transition for Dancers gala, where Bergasse presented a balletic On the Town medley. He's also certified by the Jerome Robbins Foundation to teach the choreography of West Side Story (he danced the role of Baby John in a national tour of the show), which means he's well-versed in the Robbins lexicon—a fitting link to the show's past.