The Regent’s Park summer musical has long been a fixture at the Open Air Theatre, but its increasing importance to the repertoire sees it moved to the front of the season this year.
And the theatre has come up with an absolute corker with this revival of the 1944 Leonard Bernstein-scored show On the Town. This is a production that rivals An American in Paris in the dance stakes and 42nd Street for sheer brio, while being a whole lot raunchier than either of them, putting sex unashamedly at the centre of things.
Drew McOnie, who also choreographed Jesus Christ Superstar for the theatre – a production that returns later this summer – directs as well as choreographs this time around. No one can fill a show with exhilarating jazz and beautiful balletic movement quite as explosively as McOnie, as he proved earlier this year with The Wild Party at the Other Palace. Like Jerome Robbins who choreographed the show’s original Broadway production, he anchors the movements in the narrative.
It’s the perfect expression of the sudden sexual freedom that is enticingly on offer to the three horny sailors from the American navy on shore leave after their ship docks at the Brooklyn naval yards – a setting stunningly embodied in Peter McKintosh’s design: massive steel ship containers provide elevated platforms on which the action to take place.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s comic strip lyrics are a riot of laughter and characterisation as our three boys, Gabey, Ozzie and Chip, embark on romantic entanglements with Ivy – a music student at Carnegie Hall – Claire, a sex-addicted anthropologist – and Hildy, a sex-addicted cab driver.
McOnie drives the action through dance and adds some intoxicatingly inventive, sports-based steps. It’s a shame, but not too surprising given how demanding the dance is, that one of the principals Fred Haig, who was originally playing Chip, sustained a foot fracture during a preview and had to withdraw from the show. But he’s been seamlessly replaced by his understudy Jacob Maynard, who brings an irresistible sweetness to the character.
The stand-out man is recent Strictly Come Dancing finalist and Hollyoaks actor Danny Mac, as Gabe, whose effortless tenor gives gorgeous voice to one of the show’s loveliest, most mellow numbers Lonely Town; he’s also a supremely nifty and agile mover.
Miriam-Teak Lee, making an outstanding professional debut, plays Claire with deadly glamour and grit. Lizzy Connolly is scandalously sensational as the cab driver determined to take her passenger back to her place. The ensemble is tightly-drilled but the show is virtually stolen from under their legs by the deadpan Maggie Steed as the alcoholic teacher Madame Dilly.