Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

On the Town
Olney Theatre Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Sam Ludwig, Rhett Guter and Evan Casey
Photo by Stan Barouh
To mark the centennial year of the birth of both Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins, Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., has staged a sumptuous production of the two legends' first work for Broadway, On the Town. Director Jason Loewith, also Olney's artistic director, and his insanely skilled cast bring the audience into the world of three World War II sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City.

The youth of the 1944 show's creators—including first-time book and lyric writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the average age was 27—comes through in the inspired silliness of character names (Claire de Loone? Pitkin W. Bridgework?) and the propulsive energy of the plot, but the underlying sense of living for the moment during wartime keeps it from being strictly frivolous. Director Jason Loewith understands both sides of the musical and allows riotous humor to coexist with the high stakes.

The story begins with three Navy pals bursting out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard at 6 a.m. on a June day, ready to do the town. Gawky Chip (Evan Casey) wants to sightsee, aspiring Lothario Ozzie (Sam Ludwig) wants to find as many women as possible, and Gabey (Rhett Guter) falls in love with a photo of "Miss Turnstiles" Ivy Smith (Claire Rathbun) he sees on a poster in the subway. An outspoken female cab driver, Hildy (Tracy Lynn Olivera, married to Casey offstage), changes Chip's perception of the city; an anthropologist, Claire (Rachel Zampelli), discovers that Ozzie is a kindred spirit; and Gabey deals with a lot of things during the day.

As good as the six leads are—Olivera is a hoot by herself and even funnier in her scenes with Casey; Rathbun is an exquisite ballet dancer—the recurring presence of Donna Migliaccio and Bobby Smith in a series of now-you-see-them, now-you-don't roles becomes the main running joke of this production. Migliaccio's portrayals range from a hard-drinking voice teacher to a lugubrious nightclub singer, while Smith plays the ridiculously empathetic Bridgework (who is engaged to Claire but seems to like Ozzie better) as well as a nightclub emcee, a Coney Island huckster, and several other New Yorkers. Suzanne Lane steals the scene whenever she appears as Hildy's roommate, Lucy Schmeeler.

Tara Jeanne Vallee's choreography echoes Robbins' style without copying it, down-to-earth and anchored in everyday movement with flourishes of ballet. The ensemble is in constant motion, whether bouncing along on the subway, rehearsing in Carnegie Hall, or pushing through crowds in Times Square, while Guter and Rathbun have two dream ballets.

Music director Christopher Youstra not only conducts 13 polished musicians from the piano at the rear of Court Watson's fluid scenic design, he also created the scaled-down orchestrations of Bernstein's tricky score. Rosemary Pardee's costumes capture the era, from the omnipresent hats to day dresses and flowing evening wear, and Colin K. Bills' lighting design washes the stage while highlighting important moments.

One note: this production interpolates a song from the 1949 movie adaptation of On the Town, with a Comden and Green lyric but music by Roger Edens instead of Bernstein. It isn't listed in the program and it doesn't fit the style of the rest of the score, but it does give one of the lead couples a duet that isn't in the original show.

Olney Theatre Center
On the Town
June 20th - July 22nd, 2018
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Based on an idea by Jerome Robbins
Workers' Quartet: Tracy Lynn Olivera, Bobby Smith, Donna Migliaccio, Ian Anthony Coleman
Chip: Evan Casey
Ozzie: Sam Ludwig
Gabey: Rhett Guter
Flossie: Ashleigh King
Flossie's Friend: Amanda Kaplan
Bill Poster: Bobby Smith
Little Old Lady: Donna Migliaccio
Miss Turnstiles Announcer: Bobby Smith
Ivy: Claire Rathbun
Policeman: Alan Naylor
Mr. S. Uperman: Bobby Smith
Hildy Esterhazy: Tracy Lynn Olivera
Waldo Figment: Donna Migliaccio
Claire DeLoone: Rachel Zampelli
Lonely Town Couple: Connor James Reilly & Shawna Walker
Madame Maude P. Dilly: Donna Migliaccio
Pitkin W. Bridgework: Bobby Smith
Lucy Schmeeler: Suzanne Lane
Diamond Eddie's, Congacabana, and Slam Bang Club Master of Ceremonies: Bobby Smith
Club Dancing Girls: Ashleigh King, Jennifer Flohr, Amanda Kaplan, Shawna Walker
Diana Dream: Donna Migliaccio
Dolores Dolores: Donna Migliaccio
Diana Dream Impersonator: Alan Naylor
Rajah Bimmy: Bobby Smith
Ensemble: Ian Anthony Coleman, Jennifer Flohr, Lance E. Hayes, Amanda Kaplan, Ashleigh King, Suzanne Lane, Robert Mintz, Alan Naylor, Connor James Reilly, Ron Tal, Shawna Walker, Taylor J. Washington
Directed by Jason Loewith
Choreography by Tara Jeanne Vallee
Music director: Christopher Youstra
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or