ON THE TOWN theatre review

The Foundation Academy completed a two-weekend run of its annual musical on Mother’s Day at the auditorium on their San Pablo Road Campus. We have covered many of their productions over the years, and we could always count on seeing a musical that had not been done in this area by anyone. Just a few of these included Carnival Fame, Cotton Patch Gospel and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.
This year’s production was indeed a treat, for it is one that I don’t think has ever been done in North Florida, and one neither of us had ever seen. On the Town was a big hit in1944 during WWII. Why? Well, the story of a one-day visit to New York by three young sailors prior to being shipped off to war was certainly timely. And like many young sailors, they were hoping to meet a girl to have fun with for a few hours, and perhaps even fall in love with, if only temporarily, a theme that resonated with wartime audiences.
The music by a young Leonard Bernstein produced the hit song, “New York, New York”, but the other interesting melodies never became hits. Two revivals in the 1970s and 1990s were not very successful. The 1949 movie version, with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, has become a staple on the old movie channels on cable, and you can find VHS and DVD copies in our local libraries.
On the Town certainly provided quite a challenge to Artistic & Musical Director Madaline Hill. It seemed to us that most of the songs were very challenging to sing, which may explain why the show was never a success in revival. In addition there were many scene changes, so many in fact that they were not listed the program.
The wonderful set by Jim Lynch, with lighting design by Tom Fallon, captured the essence of New York, softened with pastels, in a by-gone era. The backdrop spanned the stage and included a wall-to-wall Brooklyn Bridge, skyscrapers, and small neighborhood shops. The design allowed technical crew to bring out furniture and props quickly, including a delightfully cartoonish taxi.
In 1944, the musical was a big dance show due to the presence of the great Jerome Robbins. Foundation’s Holly Manuel had to be less ambitious with choreography, since she was working with students with limited dance experience. The cast got in the spirit, with some interesting night club numbers and the big finale featuring the signature song “New York, New York”.
The costumes by Madaline Hill, Sharleen Smith and Pattie Floyd were done well. The characters spanned a wide segment of society, so costumes for men ranged from dress for dockworkers, sailors, and waiters to suits topped with fedoras and formal wear. Streetwear for women included short dresses with soft skirts typical of the period. Evening dresses for the ladies and nightclub performers were colorful and festive.
Foundation always uses live musicians for the musicals and this year’s orchestra with Ellen Milligan (piano), Walter Hill (drums), Farris Nix (Bass), John Tredway (trumpet), and Evan Buckle (Saxophone), performed well.
We will not get involved with the plot since this is an after-the-fact review. Interested? As I mentioned, pickup the movie, it is a lot of fun and noted for being shot on location in the streets of New York.
The Foundation Academy is a small school with grades through 12. Most of the student body was involved with the production in one way or another, as were many parents. In reading the program, we noted that over half the cast was appearing in a first musical or play at this school.
There is an expression of good luck that goes back to Shakespeare’s time, and that is; break a leg. Two of the young actors took this literally before the show opened and actors Derek Caywood playing Ozzie and Christian Rodriquez playing Mr. Uperman, both performed with ankle injuries, using a cane and crutches to get around. Both were amazingly agile despite the handicap.
The cast included Derek Caywood (Ozzie), Jacob Watson (Chip), David Medina( Gabey), Angela Bonfiglio (Hildy), Emily Butler( Claire De Loone), Peyton Enfinger (Ivy Smith), Derek Alton (Judge Bridgework), Patrice Carter (Madame Dilly), Shakira Henry (Lucy Schmeeler), Greta Clark( Flossie), Cassidy Butler (Flossie’s friend), Zachary Pridgen (Subway Bill Poster), Karina Blanchard (Little Old lady), Christian Rodriguez (Mr. Uperman) , Nicholas Augustini (Waldo Figment), Josh Matos (Master of Ceremonies), Alexis Porsha Walton (Diana Dream), Nick Vogler (Rajah Bimmy), Michael Salmom (Policeman), Jessica Shuman(Nedicks Attendant), Morgan Ivey (Workman) Genesis Guerra (Harem Scarem Girl). Diamond Eddie Girls were Teandra Key, Jessica Shuman, Cassidy Butler and Greta Clark; Sailors were Frank Tappin, Melvin Reynolds, Josh Matos, Derek Alton and Zachary Pridgen.
For the students, the opportunity to spend weeks practicing and participating in a major stage production immersed in the culture, fashions, and music of the 40s was an interesting and valuable history lesson. The audience also found the experience rewarding, as we relived the excitement of a smash New York musical with the cast and crew.
To learn more about The Foundation Academy visit wwwfoundationacademy.com.