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Paulanne Simmons

"On the Town" Dances into Millburn, New Jersey

"On the Town"
Directed by Bill Berry
Paper Mill Playhouse Brookside Drive, Millburn, New Jersey
Opened Nov. 11, 2009, Closes Dec. 6, 2009
Wed. 7:30 p.m., Thurs. 1:30 and 7:30 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 1:30 and 8 p.m. and Sun. 1:30 and 7 p.m.
Tickets: $25-$92 (973) 376-4343 or www.papermill.corg
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 15, 2009

"On The Town" at Paper Mill Playhouse, (L to R) Tyler Hanes; Brian Shepard; Kelly Sullivan; Jennifer Cody; Jeffrey Schecter. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

The 1944 musical "On the Town" first saw life as a Jerome Robbins ballet, "Fancy Free," produced by The American Ballet Theatre. It had music by Leonard Bernstein and sets by Oliver Smith. Smith and his business partner, Paul Feigay, thought the show would make a good musical and convinced Bernstein to enlist his friends Betty Comden and Adolph Green to write the book and lyrics.

The show they created was and remains a showcase for Bernstein's music and Robbins' choreography. "On the Town" is short on plot: three sailors on leave have one day in New York City to see the sights and find romance. But their adventures are so amusing and filled with such fine music and exciting dance that few people have cared about the flimsiness of the story line.

Tyler Hanes and Molly Tynes.Photo by Kevin Sprague.

"On the Town" depends on great performances and excellent direction, both of which the Paper Mill Playhouse production has in abundance. Bill Berry directs a cast that includes Tyler Hanes as the lovesick Gabey, determined to find Miss Turnstiles, aka Ivy Smith (Yvette Tucker), and Jeffrey Schecter and Brian Shepard as his two sidekicks, Ozzie and Chip.

Ozzie finds love in The Museum of Natural History when he meets Claire DeLoone (Kelly Sullivan), who is conducting a study of primitive man and notices how much he resembles one. Chip is ensnared by an oversexed cab driver named Hildy Esterhhazy (the feisty and funny Jennifer Cody), who brings the overwhelmed Chip to her apartment for amorous pursuits that are foiled by her ailing roommate, Lucy Schmeeler (Tari Kelly).

Brian Shepard and Jennifer Cody. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

Harriet Harris, the big name in the show, does not disappoint as Madame Dilly. Her over-the-top portrayal of the alcoholic singing teacher is a highlight in the antics of the show.

Most people in the audience will recognize the ever-popular "New York, New York," the show's signature song. But they will come away with a new admiration for Hildy's hilarious "Come Up to My Place" and "I Can Cook Too," and the big dance numbers in the museum, "Carried Away," and at Coney Island, "The Real Coney Island." In fact, Patti Colombo's original choreography captures the essence of Robbins' muscular, saucy and spirited dances.

Like a good appetizer, Walt Spanglers' whimsical sets provide a delicious taste of New York City. His dinosaur in the Museum of Natural History and his cartoon-like New York City taxi cab are particularly delightful.

"On the Town" was first produced at a time when the country wanted to forget about the bad times and look forward to a better future. It is escapist entertainment of the highest order. Like a beautifully cut diamond, it never grows old.

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