Originally staged on Broadway in 1944, On The Town is one of Leonard Bernstien’s many success stories. Featuring many a now famous song including ‘New York, New York’, ‘I can cook too’ and ‘Ya Got Me’, On The Town tells the story of three young sailers on 24 hours shore leave in the great New York City. With only a day to experience all that they can, the three men quickly find romance and temptation, leading them into a fast paced and funny adventure through the bustling city.
With the theatres closed and many of us still stuck at home with little to do, I have to admit that I did a little digging around the internet and stumbled across this recording of On The Town at the BBC Proms from 2018, and couldn’t quite believe my luck when I did. Starring Nadim Naaman, Fra Fee, Celinde Schoenmaker, Nathaniel Hackmann and Louise Dearman to name but a few, this brilliant performance played to a packed house at the Royal Albert Hall and was thankfully recorded for the BBC.
I have to admit that I didn’t know a lot about On The Town before watching this but now I absolutely adore it. It’s easy going, yet fast paced, comical throughout and bursting with energy and that’s before you even begin to talk about the music. The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Wilson, fills the space with stunning instrumentals, keeping the action moving forwards beautifully without a need for flashy set pieces or over the top costumes. I can only imagine how amazing it must have been to hear it live.
Nathaniel Hackmann plays Gabey, the young sailer struck by Cupid’s arrow through a fleeting glance with Miss Turnstiles, Ivy Smith (Siena Kelly) and he charms throughout in the role with impressive vocals. Gabey is a character that you can’t help but love and root for, and Hackmann’s portrayal allows you to truly invest in the character’s feelings and desires. His rendition of ‘Lucky To Be Me’ is particularly charming. As Ivy, Kelly is both lovable and cheeky, and brings some real comedy in scenes with her rather drunken singing teacher Madame Dilly (Claire Moore)
Nadim Naaman and Celinde Scheonmaker are a brilliantly funny double act as Ozzie and Claire, caught up in passion and continuously getting carried away. The natural chemistry between the pair allows for a lovely easy flow of comedy and both look like they were having a great time performing together. Barnaby Ree proves a bit of a scene stealer as Claire’s long suffering fiancee Pitkin, with perfect comic timing and some incredible deep operatic vocals.
Whilst Gabey and Ozzie want adventure and romance from their 24 hours in New York, all young Chip really wants to do is see and experience the city. With his trusty guide book in hand, he heads off to explore but is soon intercepted by determined taxi driver Hildy. In this performance, the roles of Chip and Hildy were brilliantly played by Fra Fee and Louise Dearman. They say opposites attract, and that couldn’t be more true for these two characters. Chip is somewhat nervous and shy, whereas Hildy has all the confidence in the world. Fra Fee is wonderfully endearing and sweet as Chip, both desperate to explore the city and to see his two best friends happy and Dearman buzzes with excitement and energy whilst blowing the audience’s socks off with her rendition of ‘I Can Cook Too’. The pair’s duet of ‘Come Up To My Place’ is a real highlight of the entire show, with their wonderful vocals working perfectly together.
This production of On The Town only goes to prove that sometimes you don’t need the flashy costumes and over the top sets to make an impression. With the orchestra playing this famous music and the incredible cast bringing the much loved characters to life, you don’t need anything more. You get carried away in the story, and fall for the characters hook, line and sinker. The entire show is charming, funny and incredibly enjoyable, a couple of hours of pure joy.
You can watch On The Town at the BBC Proms here