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‘On the Town’ review: Gateway revives 1944 musical relic

Starring in

Starring in "On the Town" are, from left, Sean Ewing, Nick Adams and Daniel Switzer at Gateway Playhouse. Photo Credit: Jeff Bellante

WHAT “On the Town”

WHEN | WHERE Through July 15. Upcoming: 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Tuesday; 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; 215 S. Country Rd., Bellport

INFO $59-$89; 631-286-1133, thegateway.org

Despite its fabulous pedigree, the 1944 musical “On the Town” had become such a relic as to be considered unrevivable in a millennial world. But then it was revived, again, on Broadway in 2014. Paul Allan, executive artistic director of The Gateway, where “On the Town” now returns, had so given up on the show that he discarded a set his company stored for 10 years. No one in that time rented it. Not once.

But then the dance musical became hip again. Now Gateway has built a new set (retro design by Michael Boyer). Still, “On the Town” remains, at times, something of a relic.

The musical grew out of a Jerome Robbins ballet, “Fancy Free,” set to music by Leonard Bernstein. Adolph Green and Betty Comden, the songwriting/libretto team behind musicals ranging from “Peter Pan” to “The Will Rogers Follies,” transformed the ballet into a musical, which was then adapted into a 1949 movie.

The incongruity of juxtaposing high art and low humor brings to mind Warner Bros.’ classic cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” spoofing Wagner’s “Ring” cycle. Only not as funny.

The song-and-dance show packs a lot of shenanigans into its simple plot. You’d never know there’s a world war going on as three sailors go girl crazy on their 24-hour leave in New York City. (Yes, we believe them when the trio sings “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town.”) Spotting a subway poster bearing a photo of Miss Turnstiles, Gabey (nimble and full-throated Nick Adams) devotes his leave time to getting a date with the blond beauty. His two buddies fan out across Manhattan to help find her, encountering unlikely romance along the way. Chip, played with guileless charm by Daniel Switzer, is accosted by a taxi driver (indefatigable Lexi Lyric, who implores him to “Come Up to My Place”). Ozzie, gullibly played by Sean Ewing, is mistaken for a Neanderthal by an anthropologist — Amanda Higgins, with a voice that could break glass. She finds him irresistible.

Meanwhile, Gabey pursues Miss Turnstiles (lithe ballerina/actress Virginia Preston) even as time is running out on the 24-hour leave. The couple’s dreamy Coney Island pas de deux choreographed by director Scott Thompson (accompanied by Jeffrey Buchsbaum’s 10-piece orchestra) is top-notch ballet theater. But overbroad spoken humor, especially drunk scenes involving Mary Stout as a vocal coach, doesn’t strike me as laughable anymore. Fortunately, her character doesn’t drive.

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