I can’t honestly tell you what it was that attracted me by buy tickets for On The Town at the Coliseum: the chance to make my first trip to this venue, the cheap balcony seats, Leonard Bernstein’s name or maybe it was just the hot guy in a sailors uniform on the poster, but I have never been so glad to take a punt on something unknown as I was here. This is proper old-school Broadway musical entertainment at its dazzling best, perhaps unsurprising given Bernstein’s pedigree. The combination of a huge ensemble with a full orchestra means the total personnel involved is over 100 which is mightily impressive and lends an epic scale to the set pieces and Stephen Mears’ excellently choreographed routines. And it was all the more so considering I wasn’t expecting any of it!
We’re in 1944 and three sailors have just 24 hours of leave to kill in New York and they decide to use it on looking for a girl. It is a simple premise, but one given wonderful life here as the guys variously drink in the sights of the city, sample its cultural delights, chase some skirt but also keep an eye out for romance too. All fun and games but this production never loses sight of the fact that we’re smack in the middle of World War II and that the solace these men are looking for is a strictly temporary measure and so there’s a real bittersweet kick to proceedings that lends a real depth to the show.
There’s great performances across the board but it was Caroline O’Connor and Lucy Schaufer as Hildy and Claire, two of the women being chased by the sailors who stood out for me. O’Connor’s yellow cab driving skills were excellently displayed in a bizarre approximation of one of New York’s most well known images but one which was brilliant fun and her vocal talents remained sharp throughout, particularly well showcased in I Can Cook Too. Schaufer was also strong, an opera singer by trade, but making the transition here effortlessly. Ryan Molloy, Sean Palmer and Joshua Dallas all had great appeal as the sailors and I also enjoyed Janine Duvitski, Andrew Shore and the evergreen June Whitfield as the boozy Madame Dilly.
So a hugely fun evening out at the opera house to see a musical and one which fills this ginormous venue with its enthusiasm, professionalism and sheer energy, right up to cheap seats at the back balcony: was ever a tenner better blindly spent? I don’t think so!