“The gifted actors reject custom to generate an On the Town that caters to them and, like the George Wolfe production from 1998, re-presents the multi-ethnic place ‘New York, New York,’ was before and during the 1940s and is at present.”
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Rosetta LeNoire (1911-2002) founded Amas Musical Theater as a multi-ethnic and nonprofit performing arts organization in 1969. It is devoted to celebrating the perspectives of persons from underrepresented groups and persons of color—the recent Amas benefit production re-presented Damn Yankees in the Negro Leagues—and developing new American musical theater, which includes Bubbling Brown Sugar, Little Ham, Lone Star Love, and Zanna!
In addition, Amas is devoted to encouraging teenaged talent. All the teenaged actors, dancers, singers, and triple threats in the current production—On the Town—participate in the Amas training program, where participants receive instruction from performing arts professionals to prepare for performances in an important work from the American musical theater canon. One of the gems from that canon, On the Town follows three servicemen who, granted 24-hour leave, seek love before returning to an uncertain future during the Second World War. Presented at the intimate Hudson Guild Theater, the production is outstanding.
Leonard Bernstein afforded On the Town an incredible score of saccharine ballads and succulent melodies that keep fingers snapping and feet tapping. He and wordsmiths Comden and Green created the delightful numbers “I Can Cook To,” “New York, New York,” “Some Other Time,” and “Ya Got Me” among other ones. Each contributed to intricate patterns of musical sound and rime that the actors hone with ease. During each beat, jut, pulse, and song, the actors beat, jut, pulse, and sing to life—with all the eccentricities the book and score allow—the characters Bernstein, Comden and Green, and Jerome Robbins created.
Damion Anthon, Delbert Moore, and Desmond Nicholson are affecting and comical as the three servicemen. Each acts, dances, and sings with passion, and reveals proper doses of charisma, naïveté, and sass. Moore is entertaining as Chip. His facial expressions and over-the-top movements prove his comic abilities and nature.
Stephanie Christie delivers an incredible performance as an aggressive and go-getting-no-holds-barred-no-nonsense taxicab driver who abducts Chip—with unadulterated intentions, of course!—and wins his affection. She captivates each time she sings—so much so that she whets the audience appetite—and enthralls with her comic timing. She is amazing.
Amanda Moreau is sophisticated as anthropologist Claire DeLoone (the role Comden created in the original 1944 production) and Jason Depont is riotous as her over-the-top and queer—the word has several definitions!—fiancée. Moreau and Nicholson (in the Green role) shine during their hilarious show of adult humor and camp at a museum exhibit about prehistoric man.
As minor characters, Lisette Ffolkes is comical as Flossie, the eternal complainant, and Rashia Burrell is perfect as her simpleton girlfriend. Christina Matthews is side-splitting as an old woman. Akil Noel is hilarious in Jack-of-all-Trades roles, and Denise Sillman is a hoot as an inebriated and “relations”-deprived music teacher. Leslie Ruiz, an intelligent dancer full of pizzazz and spirit, makes an impression, and accolades and praises for all the actors and the entire production are endless.
Monica Celeste Johnson has created original dances that—complete with extended arms, extended right legs, and no-longer-pedestrian movements—evoke Robbins. Her choreographic achievement is at its height during “Times Square Ballet,” where she channels the riches, subtleties, and textures of the music to create the expressive movements the actors execute.
In the program, director Christopher Scott writes that On the Town allows the teenaged actors to learn about another time period as well as live it, and “live it” the actors have done under his expert direction.
As the large part of the American musical theater canon does not celebrate multi-ethnic perspectives, it is ironic that On the Town—with dance, drama, and song not intended for people from multi-ethnic backgrounds to perform—is the canonical work chosen. Whatever hesitation about “ethnic” representation and re-presentation in the American musical theater the viewer carries, however, the gifted actors reject custom to generate an On the Town that caters to them and, like the George Wolfe production from 1998, re-presents the multi-ethnic place “New York, New York,” was before and during the 1940s and is at present.