Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

On the Town
Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's review of The Other Place

Noah Silverman, Andrew Natale Ruggieri,
and Loren Stone

Photo by Alexxis Grant, Timeless Present Photos
Even though it has many songs with witty lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and glorious music by Leonard Bernstein, the classic 1944 musical comedy On the Town is a show that seems to get rarely produced, at least locally. The current production at Arizona Broadway Theatre, which has a fantastic cast, clear direction, and gorgeous choreography, is the first one I'm aware of being presented in Phoenix in the last decade.

If you saw the recent Oscar-nominated film Maestro, which focuses on Bernstein's life, you got a glimpse at On the Town from clips of two songs from the show as well as moments from "Fancy Free," the ballet that Bernstein wrote that inspired the musical. While it has had three Broadway revivals, it's a shame this musical doesn't get produced more often, as it's a delightful, humorous, and rousing show about the journey that three soldiers on leave take through the vibrant streets of New York City in the 1940s.

Set against the backdrop of World War II, the plot follows three sailors–Gabey, Ozzie, and Chip–who are on a 24-hour leave to explore New York City. As the trio embark on a quest to make the most of their limited time in the Big Apple, Gabey sees a poster for "Miss Turnstiles" (the woman chosen to represent the subway authority for that month) and the three friends make it a mission to find her. Along the way find romance of their own.

The book by Comden and Green unfolds with a perfect balance of comedy, romance, and adventure as the sailors navigate the bustling streets and encounter New York natives along the way. Their lyrics are succinct, funny, and character specific. Bernstein's music is on par with his gorgeous melodies and soaring ballads from West Side Story. The punching beats of the opening number, "New York, New York," represent the excitement the sailors find when they first step foot off their boat into Manhattan, and the several dance sequences are musical masterpieces that capture the heart and soul of the characters, their feelings, and the exhilarating experience and vibrant energy of New York City. Perhaps it's due to the fact that the 1949 film version jettisoned most of the songs from the musical that the score isn't more well known or the fact that only one of the three Broadway revivals managed to run for longer than a few months that the show isn't produced more often.

Fortunately, audiences will get to see a stellar, gorgeous production at ABT with a wonderful cast who deliver warm and passionate performances that authentically bring their charismatic characters to life. Andrew Natale Ruggieri beautifully depicts Gabey's wide-eyed optimism and his longing for love, as well as the loneliness he finds being alone in the city. Ruggieri has portrayed leads in numerous ABT shows and his work here is excellent. Noah Silverman has comedic charm for days as Ozzie, and Loren Stone oozes innocence as Chip. All three actors provide sincere and endearing portrayals of these close friends that instantly make the characters relatable and lovable with rich singing voices that shine and sharp comic timing by Silverman and Stone.

As the women they meet on their 24-hour journey, Rebecca Shulla is bright and warm as Ivy Smith, the "Miss Turnstile" that Gabey has fallen for. Allie Tamburello is a hoot as the bold, brassy, and outspoken taxi driver Hildy who befriends Chip, and Emily Hardesty is warm and charming as the nerdy and smart anthropologist Claire de Loone, the woman Ozzie encounters at a museum. All three have gorgeous singing voices and they create characters that are instantly likable. In supporting roles, Wes Martin and Kathi Osborne provide bright comic relief as Claire's older and understanding fiancé and Ivy's often inebriated music teacher, respectively.

Danny Gorman's direction brings a wonderful amount of energy and emotion to the production. The choreography by Kurtis Overby is superb and danced extremely well by the large cast. There are several elaborate dance sequences that beautifully pay homage to Jerome Robbins' original choreography. Ruggieri and Shulla previously played the leads in An American in Paris at ABT, which was also choreographed by Overby. The trust and connection they have with each other is palpable and the precision, athleticism, and sheer joy they bring to their dances, including a spectacular second act ballet, is exciting. The eight-piece orchestra sounds wonderful under Steve Zumbrun's music direction, playing some of Bernstein's most glorious songs.

The creative aspects authentically depict the spirit of the 1940s. The period-appropriate costumes by Morgan Andersen are bright and sharp. David Goldstein's colorful set design that uses steel-looking bridge trusses and a few smaller moving set pieces combines perfectly with the vibrant and constantly changing media design by Matthew Herman displayed on the large LED back screen of the stage, capturing the grandeur of New York City. Casey Price's lighting design enhances the mood of the show, with bright, warm hues for the earlier daytime scenes and cool, dark colors for the nighttime moments.

When On the Town first premiered during a time of war, the musical served as a beacon of joy and optimism for audiences seeking an escape from the harsh realities of the world. Today it seems that there is a great need for a similar type of escapism and with a great cast, Arizona Broadway Theatre's bright, energetic, vibrant, and nostalgic production provides a similar symbol of resilience and hope.

On the Town runs through February 24, 2024, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 623-776-8400.

Director: Danny Gorman
Choreography: Kurtis Overby
Music Direction: Steve Zumbrun
Scenic Design: David Goldstein
Lighting Design: Casey Price
Costume Design: Morgan Andersen
Sound Design: Kiegan Lee
Wig Design/Coordination: Chris Zizzo
Props Design: Jamie Hohendorf-Parnell
Media Design: Matthew Herman
Stage Management: Nico Rossetti
Artistic Director: Kurtis W. Overby
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Gabey: Andrew Natale Ruggieri
Chip: Loren Stone
Ozzie: Noah Silverman
Ivy Smith: Rebecca Shulla
Claire de Loone: Emily Hardesty
Hildy: Allie Tamburello
Maude P. Dilly: Kathi Osborne
Pitkin: Wes Martin
Ensemble: Erin Burtchaell, Zachary Dyer, Nicole Essien, Corry J. Ethridge, Mariel Harris, Vincent Law, Jacob Lill, Kyle Marra, Allyson Peter, Ellie Roddy, Stone Matthews Snowden, Kristin Tagg, Eric Brian Waters, Troy Wheeler, Holly Wilder, Elizabeth L. Worley