NORMAN — Four schools within the University of Oklahoma’s College of Fine Arts are partnering under the direction of Lyn Cramer to restage this once “must-see” musical by servicemen and women before leaving for WWII.
Rarely performed today, Cramer’s program notes explain “On the Town” is a massive undertaking for any theatre company and even with heavy streamlining for today’s audience OU’s production still requires 45 actors along with a crew and pit orchestra just as large to support.
“On The Town” will conclude OU’s annual President’s Arts Week. Dean Rich Taylor welcomed members of the University Women’s Club during Thursday evening’s final dress rehearsal. Sitting in the plush velvet lined chairs among a mature audience within OU’s historic Holmberg Hall set just the right mood for this 1944 musical.
Cramer’s direction stays true to the Leonard Bernstein (music), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (books and lyrics) and Jerome Robbins’ (dance) original Broadway show by relying heavily on dance to tell the unfolding story. Cramer teamed with OU dance professors Steve Brule and Clara Cravey Stanley to develop humorous and flowing ballets and dance sequences. Add Lloyd Cracknell’s vibrant costumes and Paul Christman’s jazzy pit orchestra and the show’s diverse color and rhythmic pallets come alive.
The show’s third number, “Presentation of Miss Turnstiles” gives you the first taste of dance’s storytelling role. Ivy, played by Audra Bryant, has just been announced this month’s winner of New York’s Miss Turnstiles. All the singing comes via the announcer right at the beginning and the rest of the number is danced. Various men representing business to servicemen dance onto the stage begging for her attention until they finally retreat when the next month’s Miss Turnstiles is announced leaving her back on the subway to bounce with the rest of New York.
“On the Town” is the story of three Navy sailors on 24-hour shore leave anxious to explore all of New York City. Along the way, they find themselves partnering with three different women they eventually leave behind as they head to their uncertain futures overseas.
Dan Horn, Jacob Chancellor and Cory Lingner play the three amigos ,who eventually find the unexpected dames Alie Walsh, Rebecca Ashton and Bryant. Chancellor and Walsh are the comic couple Chip and Hildy, who wind up in her apartment as she shows her cooking skills are much sweeter than her brandy-scuffed vocals. Horn and Ashton are the cat-mouse couple Ozzie and Claire with a physical connection too strong to deny. Finally, there are the star-crossed lovers Gabey and Ivy played by Lingner and Bryant. All it took was Gabey seeing Ivy on the Miss Turnstiles poster to know she was the one. Yet, every time they find each other it is only to be separated again.
The three pairings are well matched. While all do a great job acting and dancing, they each bring their characters to life through their voices.
“On the Town” does not have the fluidity of Bernstein’s later musicals like “West Side Story.” Dancing and singing are primarily separate actions that, when woven together smoothly by a director, tell a complete story.
Cramer’s cast is clearly rehearsed for this stark difference with the characters fully coming to life through the support of music director and conductor Paul Christman, costume designer Lloyd Cracknell, scenic designer Ethan Hartman, lighting designer Eric Stehl, technical director Scott Henkels, production manager Kasey Allee-Forman and stage manger Rosie DiVincenzo.
“On the Town’s” compartmentalization of dance and singing inadvertently highlights the musical score.
“On the Town” runs at 8 p.m. today and May 2-4, and at 3 p.m. Sunday and May 5. All performances take place in the Reynolds Performing Arts Center, 560 Parrington Oval.
For tickets, call the Fine Arts ticket office at 325-4101. Tickets are $30 adult, $25 seniors/OU faculty and staff/military and $15 students with ID.