Ivy Smith, the winner of the subway's monthly Miss Turnstyle contest in "On the Town," is a smart and modest -- if not exactly conclusive -- role for a star ballerina in her two-week, high-profile Broadway debut.
Surrounded by Misty Copeland's primed fan-base at the long-running revival Tuesday, I was never more aware of how much of the musical-comedy classic (which closes when she leaves Sept. 6) involves looking for Ivy and talking about Ivy -- and how few scenes she actually dominates.
Unless you bought a ticket expecting all-Misty, all-the-time, however, the first theater appearance by American Ballet Theatre's newly appointed first black principal dancer was an impressive and satisfying event.
Copeland, in the midst of a multimedia career whirlwind, steps into the role created for this production by Megan Fairchild, on leave from the New York City Ballet. Copeland combines a perky but savvy girl-next-door accessibility with a punch of dynamism. She definitely can act -- with her expressive body, of course, but also with her (heavily miked)voice. Her singing, the little she does here, has a gutsy quality that exudes personality, if not elegant tone. While taking class from her alcoholic nutcase of a teacher (Jackie Hoffman, still pushing overtime in four comic cameos), this Ivy does robust vocalizing while standing for what seems like forever on her head.
She is short for a dancer, a fact known in the ballet world and by readers of her best-selling memoir. But she takes up broad swatches of emotional space with confidence and switches from show-dance to the romantic ballet interludes with the ease expected from an artist with her varied repertory.
Is she a Broadway natural for shows that require more singing and acting? Who can say? But Copeland, an activist against racial inequality in more than ballet, is obviously having a kick for a brief time in the 1944 musical about three sailors on one-day leave in naughty New York.
The show, directed by John Rando, has been sexed-up and coarsened in the year since it opened to good reviews but a struggling box office. Nearly everyone is hitting the sly jokes by Betty Comden and Adolph Green too hard. Leonard Bernstein's jazzy, brainy score still sounds wonderful, but Joshua Bergasse's choreography, inspired by heady memories of Jerome Robbins, has settled into more obvious grind.
WHAT "On the Town"
WHERE Lyric Theatre, 213 W. 42nd St., through Sept. 6
INFO $39-$147.50; 877-250-2929; onthetownbroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Misty Copeland in small but impressive Broadway debut.