It is a musical. But there is a good reason so many of the players are wearing ballet slippers.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 musical “On the Town,” which opened at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center on Friday, is very aware that this show grew out of a ballet by Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins, “Fancy Free.” It does a great job of delivering the songs and dances, while also trying to put its best foot forward in several ballet segments that are part of the stage version (and which were much less a part of the 1949 film version that starred Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra).
This rambunctious musical, which features a book and lyrics by frequent Bernstein collaborators Adolph Green and Betty Comden, is the joyride of three sailors who have a 24-hour shore leave in New York City. Knowing that they are going to return to a ship that may not come back from the war, the sailors are determined to cram a lifetime into their one free day. They hit the streets without much of a plan, until one of the swabbies, Gabey (Jonah Munroe) sets his sights on a dream girl, Ivy Smith (Madelyn Grimes), whose picture he sees in a poster announcing her as a winner in the monthly Miss Turnstiles contest. This turns the aimless trio into men with a mission.
This production succeeds on most levels on the strength of several fine voices and bright, breezy direction by SSG co-founders Jason and Lauren Morgan. Many of the production numbers and ballet sequences also stand out, thanks to the choreography of Karen Metheny.
But this production is at its best when it is singing. There is a long list of voices that deserve praise. Christian Teague (Judge Pitkin W. Bridge) is gifted with a near-operatic bass-baritone that is absolutely stunning in its strength and clarity. Dakota James (Ozzie) plays his sailor role so easily and tunefully that you want to promote him to captain. And several of the actresses, including Jessica Taylor (Claire de Loone), Olivia Cartwright (Hildy Esterhazy) and Delynda Johnson Moravee (Madame Dilly), also contribute some outstanding vocal moments.
First and foremost, however, this production is something of a Fort Worth coming-out party for Munroe, who acts, sings and dances his lead role superbly. Munroe has previously done some fine work in other area theaters. But this show marks his SSG debut, and is the first production I’ve seen that allows him to display his full range of talents.
The show also has an appealing, old-fashioned look, thanks to the nicely rendered sets by Jason Morgan and some attention-grabbing period costuming by Lauren Morgan.
While this production works well on the whole, it is not without flaws. The acting does not always keep pace with the quality of the singing. Some of the female roles might have been better cast. Also, the use of recorded music, which is always disappointing, is a major drawback in this show. Some of the dance and ballet numbers fall flat while trying vainly to soar on canned music.
But the strengths far outnumber the weaknesses in this fine presentation. It is a lyrical and exhilarating romp that gleefully celebrates its composer, its era and its setting.