Thursday, July 13, 2017

On the Town


After seeing Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s superb “Wonderful Town” and Music Circus’ sparkling “On the Town” — both by the team of Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein and both paens to the Big Apple — I have a strong craving for a slice of New York pizza.

The energetic “On the Town” burst onto the Music Circus stage this week, the 1944 musical as fresh as it was when it first opened on Broadway. The show opens with a lament (“I feel like I”m not out of bed yet”) by a workman (Joseph Torello) whose voice is clear and deep and wonderful. He appears as several other announcers throughout the show.

This is the story of three sailors on a 24-hour leave in New York City. It is the first time each of them has visited the city and they are determined to see everything and maybe pick up a lady along the way.

Chip (Matt Loehr) has a tour book his father used many years ago … and he’s determined not to miss anything. Gabey (Sam Lips) falls in love with a picture of “Miss Turnstyle” that he sees on the subway and is determined to find her. Ozzie (Clyde Alves) just wants to find a date because Manhattan women are “the prettiest in the world.”

The trio decide to split up and see if they can find Miss Turnstyle (real name Ivy Smith, played by Courtney Iventosch). They agree to meet up back in Times Square at the end of the afternoon.
Gabey steals the poster off the subway and is pursued through the rest of the show by an umbrella-waving little old lady (Karen Hyland) and a growing posse of police and others.

Chip is accosted by taxi driver Hildy Esterhazy (Jennifer Cody), who has just been fired from her job. She is a real firecracker, oversexed and determined to get back to her apartment for a little canoodling. Cody is marvelous and brings a real spark to every scene in which she appears.

Ozzie heads to the Museum of Modern Art, because he believes beautiful women love art. There he finds anthropologist Claire de Loone (really) played by Holly Ann Butler, who mistakes Ozzie for a prehistoric man. She is engaged to a famous judge, Pitkin W. Bridgework (Donald Corren), who has encouraged her anthropological studies as a way to sublimate her sexual addiction. He is very understanding when he sees her with another man because he knows it is just scientific investigation.

Gabey goes to Carnegie Hall, where the subway poster says Ivy studies, and he actually finds her, but is hustled out by her teacher, the tipsy Madame Maude P. Dilly (Susan Cella), who wants Ivy to keep her job as a cootchie dancer because it pays her bills for vocal instruction.

Through a parade of increasingly sleazy nightclubs, the group ends up on Coney Island, where Gabey finds Ivy again and all end up back on the dock, where we began. As our three heroes say sad goodbyes to the girls before boarding their ship, three fresh new sailors descend for their own adventure in New York! New York!

Original costumes for this dazzling production were by Jess Goldstein, with Music Circus designer Marcy Froehlich. They are wonderfully, colorfully ’40s, down to the seams in the stockings.
Choreography is by Mark Esposito and includes a dream ballet, an effect that would be used even more effectively a year later by Rodgers and Hammerstein in their “Carousel.”

“On the Town” is a lively, flashy production, last seen on the Music Circus stage in 1961. It’s been a long time — and it was worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wonderful Town

Ruth (Gia Battista) gets a lift from the Brazilian cadets in
Davis Shakespeare Ensemble's “Wonderful Town” on stage through Aug. 6.
Yarcenia Garcia/Courtesy photo

 The Davis Shakespeare Festival has strong entries for its 2017 season. Opening with “The Three Musketeers” and “Wonderful Town,” the festival will close in October with “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Sisters Gia and Gabby Battista play the Sherwood sisters Ruth (Gia) and Eileen (Gabby), who have “escaped” their childhood home in Ohio and come to the Big Apple for all of the opportunities they believe it offers.

Ruth is an aspiring writer, while Eileen wants to break into show business. Along the way they feel like fish out of water and have to learn how to become part of that crazy world that is New York.
The musical is based on the stories of Ruth McKenney and was first produced as a play (“My Sister Eileen”) by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov. The music is by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

The festival director for this musical is Dennis Beasley, who made such an impression with “Bells are Ringing” last season.

“Bells are Ringing” has a “thin plot,” I said last summer, but the show was fabulous. If that plot is thin, “Wonderful Town’s” plot is even thinner. It is more a study of stereotypical New York types, and Beasley’s cast is so strong that it makes for an enjoyable production.

The girls first learn that lodging is much too expensive until they meet unscrupulous landlord Mr. Appopolous (Kevin Caravalho), who rents them a basement apartment recently vacated by Violet (Annie Dick), who was running a bordello. The apartment is below the street level within clear view of passersby who lean over and look through the windows, and is near periodic explosions from subway constructions.

The multi-talented Caravalho, who plays Cardinal Richelieu in the festival’s other production, “The Three Musketeers” also plays several other members of the ensemble (as do most of the actors). While Caravalho is wonderful in each of his roles, he has such a “unique” appearance, it is often not clear whether he is Appopolous or some other character.

Others in the apartment house include Helen (Andrea J. Love), living with her muscle-bound boyfriend Wreck (Brian Bohlender), who is not strong in the brains department but he sure could “pass that football” in his days as a player. The couple are trying to hide their relationship from Helen’s snooty mother (Jessica Woehler).

Eileen seems to be a dude magnet and all men who meet her fall for her. This includes Ian Hopps, as Frank, who works for Walgreens and sees that Eileen eats for free there every day. Hopps was the romantic lead in last summer’s “Bells are Ringing,” and while Frank is quite a different character, he still makes an impact.

Kyle Stoner is Chick Clark, a sleazy newspaper editor who has designs on Eileen, while J.R. Yancher is Bob Baker, reader for a magazine who lets Ruth know her stories have no chance of ever being published.

There are several beautiful songs, like the lush duet “Ohio,” sung by the sisters when they suffer homesickness. The Battista women have voices that blend together beautifully, like rich melted chocolate.

Gia has several moments to shine in her songs about “One Hundred Easy Ways” and the plaintive “Quiet Ruth.”

Choreography is by Katie Peters and includes everything from Irish jig to swing, to a lively “Conga” by Eileen and a bunch of Brazilian cadets. Music is provided by the on-stage seven-member orchestra, under the direction of David Taylor-Gomes.

From top to bottom, this is a fun production with a strong cast and it shows that the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble continues to grow and thrive.