On the Town - 31 May 2017 Review

"the perfect grounding for McOnie's dazzling choreography"

Originally premiering on Broadway in 1944, On the Town is Leonard Bernstein's seminal musical that preceded his better known dance-heavy extravaganza West Side Story. Much like the latter, it's received various revivals, including Drew McOnie's latest outing at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre.

Typical to the date, there's not much to the storyline. Sailor sees picture of girl and must find girl. Other sailors meet girls and they all go on a hunt together. It's not the greatest epic love story and there's no real tragedy, but it's light and humorous and provides the perfect grounding for McOnie's dazzling choreography; a mix of Fosse, contemporary and lyrical movement that rivals Jerome Robbins' original stuff.

Danny Mac takes centre stage, after recently revealing his dancing prowess on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. His musical theatre training is abundantly clear here, with a very nice tenor voice combining with sharp dance skill, entirely doing the choreography justice. He may not be Gene Kelly, but it's clear he's set to stay on the musical scene.

There's brilliant work from the female ensemble, particularly from Lizzy Connolly as Hildy, who embodies the brass New York girl with glee, whilst Naoko Mori provides some welcome comic relief as the ever-sneezing Lucy Schmeeler. Jacob Maynard also aptly steps into the shoes of Fred Haig as the rather adorable chip.

Interestingly, Peter McKintosh's design is fairly jarring – large, rusty containers pair with bright, flashy costumes. Howard Hudson's lighting design ensures that it all gels, but the garish colour scheme is, at times, rather questionable. However the jigsaw style movement of set is impressive, allowing the space to be transformed a number of times.

It's clear to see why On the Town is rarely revived in London. It's a big, Broadway musical that requires a ton of cash to be thrown at it, which may be why it doesn't feel quite at home in the Open Air Theatre. It doesn't have the grit of Jesus Christ Superstar, nor is it a play to intrigue the masses. It's a bright, glitzy affair that requires massive numbers and even larger dance moves. McOnie's choreography is always mesmerising, but it felt much more revolutionary in The Wild Party than it does here.

Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.
31 May 2017, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre