Arts & EntertainmentFeatures

Hello, Sailors

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Bayou City Concert Musicals brings ‘On the Town to Houston town.
By Donalevan Maines • Photo by Dalton Dehart

sailors
(l–r) Adam Gibbs (Chip), Will Luton (Gabey), and Kregg Alan Dailey (Ozzie) in the resurrection of Leonard Bernstein’s classic musical.

Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town is this year’s unearthed Broadway musical treasure, which Bayou City Concert Musicals (BCCM) stages this month in a lavish production, with more than 30 performers, including a dozen dancers, and a 19-piece orchestra of union musicians.

The show will play five performances only, Sept. 10–13, at Heinen Theater, 3517 Austin at Holman in midtown Houston.

It marks the first time in history that a Houston company has performed On the Town. It fits nicely into BCCM’s scheme of showcasing seldom-produced or neglected musicals, especially from years gone by.

BCCM’s 10th anniversary season also includes two cabaret events, featuring Roaring ’20s music by Cole Porter, and songs of Vincent Youmans (“Tea for Two”) from the 1920s and 1930s, in February and May 2010, respectively.

On the Town is the singin’, dancin’ story of three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in New York City at the end of World War II. Sounds like the 1949 film starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, and Ann Miller, but artistic director Paul Hope says that’s exactly what it isn’t!

“If you’ve only seen the movie, then you haven’t seen the musical!” Hope exclaims, with big-hearted enthusiasm. “The plot was revised and MGM kept only two songs. One of those was ‘New York, New York.’ ”

Hope heard the complete score of the musical when he was in high school and got an album featuring three of its four Broadway stars, including Nancy Walker (Rhoda’s mom on the hit 1970s Rhoda TV series) as Hildy, the cab driver who taxis the sailors from adventure to misadventure in search of the girl of their dreams. The sailors sing and dance their way through subways, nightclubs, and museums until they finally find their girls at iconic Coney Island.

Five ballets help move the story along and add to the amount of action that always surprises BCCM audiences who expect a “concert” version of a musical to be stiff and static.

“We do the entire show,” Hope assures, not an abridged or truncated version, like the concert musicals that are currently popular in New York’s theater community. “ ‘Concert’ just means no scenery and the orchestra is on stage. You won’t just get a flavor. You will see the full show, complete with sailor costumes and those wonderful ’40s dresses.”

The three sailors are played by Kregg Alan Dailey, Adam Gibbs, and Will Luton. “He has handsome, farm-boy looks and strawberry-blond hair. He’s perfect for the character of Gabey,” Hope says, explaining that Luton graduated from Spring Woods High School and was accepted for studies at College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati.

Among the female headliners are Melissa Pritchett, Susan Draper, and Tamara Siler (who played Caroline in Tony Kushner’s Caroline, or Change at Main Street Theater). “And in luxury casting, Susan O. Koozin will play Hildy’s hypochondriac roommate,” boasts Hope.

“We have six male dancers and six female dancers, all from Sam Houston State University and all as cute as they can be,” he adds.

“The Heinen Theater is a jewel box of a theater” with free parking and a parking garage close to the front door, says Hope. “And the sight lines are great. With only 300 seats, even on the back row you can still see [the performers’] faces, and when you don’t have scenery, it’s important to see their faces.”

Hope is co-directing the show with Philip Lehl. Ballets are choreographed by Krissy Richmond, with other musical numbers staged by Jenny Franco. Musical direction is by Art Yelton. The conductor is Dominique Royem.

Top ticket price is $35. Senior citizens’ tickets are $25, students $15. They are available at 713/465-6484 or online at bayoucityconcerts.org.

Throughout the years, BCCM has donated more than $150,000 to support various local charities, including the Center for AIDS. On the Town will benefit The Tim Harris Memorial Fund of the Houston Professional Musicians Association for musicians who have suffered a catastrophic illness or injury.

Prior BCCM productions have included Follies (which OutSmart called a “stirring testament to the depth of talent found in the Bayou City, as well as their matchless star wattage”), Falsettos, A Little Night Music, She Loves Me, 70 Girls 70, Assassins, Fiorello!, and Pal Joey.

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Creators of On the Town are a who’s who of Broadway’s best, with music by Leonard Bernstein (his first Broadway musical), book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (newcomers who also co-starred in the original production), choreography by Jerome Robbins, and direction by George Abbott. Inspired by Bernstein’s and Robbins’ ballet Fancy Free, On the Town expanded into a full-length production and opened on Broadway in 1944.

Bernadette Peters was nominated for the 1972 Tony Award for best featured actress in a musical for her role as Hildy in the show’s first Broadway revival. Out actress/comedienne Lea DeLaria stole the show in the 1998 Broadway revival with a scat take on Hildy’s big number, “I Can Cook, Too.” She won Theatre World honors, while Mary Teste, playing Madame Dilly, was nominated for a Tony Award.

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BCCM’s 10th anniversary season offers two cabaret programs spotlighting under-performed works of the American musical stage and song book.

Paul Hope serves as master of ceremonies, weaving the history of the music and its creators into special evenings of song.

The cabaret shows start at 7:30 p.m. in the Performance Centre at the Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main St. at Berry, on three consecutive Monday nights in February 2010 and May 2010.

February shows are titled “Let’s Misbehave—The Early Music of Cole Porter” (1909–1929). Among Porter’s featured hits will be “Let’s Misbehave,” “Let’s Do It,” “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “You Do Something to Me” and “You’ve Got That Thing.”

“Tea for Two—Songs of Vincent Youmans” is scheduled for the May cabarets. While serving in World War I, he wrote “Hallelujah,” which became a huge hit with U.S. troops and was later included in the musical Hit the Deck. He wrote the music for No, No, Nanette before scoring the first Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie musical, Flying Down to Rio.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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