“On The Town” Begins Previews

An Ambitious Production in the Lyric Theatre

on the town posterOn September 20, 2014, the 2014 revival of On the Town began previews at the presently named Lyric Theatre. This venue has undergone many transitions in its storied history, and was most recently home to the infamous Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, when the theatre was named the Foxwoods. Newly purchased by the London based theatre impresario Ambassador Theatre Group, the now minted Lyric Theatre has welcomed On the Town onto its stage. This musical, with a score by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, originally premiered on Broadway in 1944. This will be its third revival, with previous Broadway productions taking place in 1971 and 1988, in addition to the 1949 film version and several British productions. In bringing On the Town to the Lyric, the producers Howard and Janet Kagan were taking an enormous risk. If the $60 million Spiderman, with its brand name recognition and notoriously spectacular flying acts could not fill the 1,938 seats of the huge venue, then a little known old-fashioned musical revival may have a tough time indeed. In fact, On the Town was a last minute booking, when the previously intended tenant – the much more spectacle filled King Kong – had to drop out.

A Good Old-Fashioned New York Story

Set in 1934, On the Town is the story of three sailors who have 24 hours of shore leave in New York City. In addition to seeing the sites, Ozzie, Chip, and Gabey have their intentions set on finding three special ladies to spend the time with. One of the early numbers in the show is the well known number New York, New York, with lyrics including “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town, the Bronx is up but the Battery’s down, the people ride in a hole in the ground…” It is not long before Chip find his lady, a tough talking cab driver named Hildy, who brags in an upbeat number that she “can cook, too” (I Can Cook, Too). Meanwhile, Ozzie finds himself at the Modern Museum of Science, where he meets his beloved Claire de Loone. However, Claire is engaged to be married to a famous judge. Gabey is having more difficulty finding a lady friend, until he stumbles upon Ivy Smith taking singing lessons at Carnegie Hall. Needless to say, the three couples encounter many twists and turns, but ultimately end up happily ever after, or at least with the firm possibility of it.

A Cast of Broadway Performers, But Not Stars

The 2014 production is directed by John Rando, who most recently helmed A Christmas Story The Musical and The Wedding Singer on On the town castBroadway. This is the first choreography credit on Broadway for Joshua Bergasse, but he appeared onstage in Hairspray and The Life. Respectively, Ozzie, Chip, and Gabey are played by Clyde Alves (Bullets Over Broadway, Nice Work If You Can Get It), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Hands on a Hardbody, Catch Me If You Can), and Tony Yazbeck (Gypsy, A Chorus Line).   Their female counterparts Claire, Hildy, and Ivy are played, respectively by Elizabeth Stanley Million Dollar Quartet, Cry Baby), Alysha Umphress (Bring It On The Musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever), and Megan Fairchild, making her Broadway debut. Though these six lead performers have spanned the spectrum of Broadway musicals in the last few years, none of them are what you could fairly call household names. Therefore, this production certainly has a tough road ahead of it in terms of attracting enough ticketbuyers to make the show last more than a month or two. On The Town officially opens on October 16, 2014, when the reviews will help determine its fate. Unfortunately, even the most laudatory reviews may not be enough to keep this show on its feet.

Broadway in Bryant Park Concert Series to Launch July 10

106.7 LITE FM Partners with New York Theatre

For fourteen consecutive years, the radio station 106.7 LITE FM has held an annual lunchtime summer concert series in Manhattan’s Bryant Park featuring the casts of Broadway shows.  The series will begin on Thursday, July 10, 2014, and will continue for six consecutive Thursday until its final event on August 14, 2014.  The Bryant Park stage is located at 6th Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets in midtown Manhattan.  The performances will begin at 12:30pm, arranged to be convenient for lunchtime entertainment, as many full-time workers in the area take their lunch break in the park on the many green tables and chairs set up around the field.  In addition, the shows are broadcast live on the radio, 106.7 LITE FM.

Bryant Park people on grass big stage with 106.7 lite fm Broadway in Bryant Park

Rocky, Wicked, If/Then, Pippin, Chicago, Les Misérables

The first three events are co-hosted by an Off-Broadway show, and all are hosted by a LITE FM personality.  On July 10, the host will be Delilah, and the show will be co-hosted by Off-Broadway’s Buyer and Cellar, running in the West Village at the Barrow Street Theatre.  The four musicals featured on that first show will be Rocky, Wicked, If/Then, and Stomp.  The last of these is an Off-Broadway show, but still a long running musical hit.  Interestingly, this show features both Wicked, which launched Idina Menzel to undeniable fame, and If/Then, in which she currently stars.  On July 17, the 106.7 LITE FM host will be Helen Little, and the show will be co-hosted by the show Perfect Crime.  This show will feature the Broadway shows Pippin, Chicago, and Les Misérables, as well as the Off-Broadway shows Atomic and iLuminate.

Phantom of the Opera, Cinderella, Bullets over Broadway, Rock of Ages, Once, Holler if Ya Hear Me, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

106.7 lite fm new york skylineaFor the third week in the series, on July 24, the 106.7 LITE FM host will be Christine Nagy, and the show will be co-hosted by the Off-Broadway show Sistas the Musical.  The event will feature the Broadway shows Phantom of the Opera, Cinderella, and Bullets over Broadway as well as the Off-Broadway shows Avenue Q (once a Broadway hit, now running at New World Stages), and Piece of my Heart (not to be confused with the recent Broadway show A Night With Janis Joplin, this is a musical about the life of Bert Berns).  On July 31, the event continues led by 106.7 LITE FM host Bob Bronson, and featuring the four Broadway shows Rock of Ages, Once, Holler if Ya Hear Me (the new Tupac Shakur musical), and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which just won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical.

Jersey Boys, After Midnight, Matilda, Mamma Mia!, Motown the Musical, On the Town

The penultimate event in the series will take place on August 7, hosted by Rich Kaminski.  The event will feature two Broadway shows – Jersey Boys and After Midnight – as well as the Off-Broadway shows Heathers and 50 Shades! The Musical.  Finally, on August 14, the series will come to a close hosted by Delilah, and featuring four Broadway shows: Matilda, Mamma Mia!, Motown the Musical, and On the Town, which will soon be running at the newly named Lyric Theatre (the former Foxwoods Theatre, where Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark was most recently running).  In general, this series is a marketing event aiming to lure more radio listeners to become theatregoers, while also offering a treat to New Yorkers in the bliss of summertime.

The Foxwoods Theatre Changes Its Name Again, Back To The Lyric Theatre

Having survived three previous corporate re-brandings since the modernized version of this historic playhouse first re-opened in 1998, the theatre most recently known as Foxwoods is transitioning to its original turn-of-the-century name, the Lyric.

Foxwoods Theatre on Broadway

The Lyric Theatre first opened in 1903 on the hot-to-trot thoroughfare of 42nd Street, and while it enjoyed some initial fanfare with such productions as Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Solider, which ran a then unheard of 296 performances, the theatre really soared during the roaring twenties, with razzle-dazzle comedies that were scored by such musical greats as the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter and which starred the likes of Fred Astaire and the Marx Brothers.

Sadly, like many businesses of the 1930’s, the Lyric Theatre could not weather the Great Depression and its final show sputtered to a close in 1934. Out of financial necessity, it was converted into a movie house that remained inconsistently operational until 1990 when the City and State of New York essentially repossessed it.

In 1992, the Lyric was placed under the protective auspices of the non-for-profit New 42nd Street Organization, who took over the lease of this landmark location, along with several other classic neighborhood beauties like the Victory Theatre and the Selwyn, in a dignified effort to preserve and honor the neighborhood’s historical integrity and significance.

Fast-forward to 1998, when Livent Inc. (a Canadian production company) partially demolished the grounds of the old Apollo and Lyric Theatres, and spent the better part of two years re-inventing the joint space, restoring the front and rear façades of the Lyric to their opulent glory.  Additional work was made to incorporate some of the most impressive interior architectural elements, namely the proscenium arch from the Apollo theatre and the dome from the Lyric, into their new design vision: a technologically-advanced performing arts center with roomy, comfortable, crowd-sustaining modern amenities.

ford theatre for the performing arts on Broadway

Once renovated and unveiled, the theatre became one of the first mascots of big business sponsorship, re-branding itself as the Ford Center for the Arts, named after none other than the Ford Motor Company.  Ironically enough, the theatre’s inaugural show, Ragtime, which had initially piqued and secured the vested interest of Ford, did not do well.  The theatre, however, did experience one considerable success with its rousing rendition of 42nd Street, which won the 2001 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival.

In 2005, Livent Inc. found itself embroiled in financial and legal troubles and Clear Channel Entertainment joined collaborative forces with Hilton Hotels, to whom it sold the naming rights, and who un-coincidentally re-named the space the Hilton Theatre.  Under Hilton’s five-year masthead, the theatre played host to a series of rather unremarkable productions including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Hot Feet, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Young Frankenstein.

In the summer of 2010, after a year of dormancy, the theatre was resurrected yet again, this time by the union of Live Nation Entertainment and Foxwoods Casino, who, not all too surprisingly, re-named it the Foxwoods Theatre.  Foxwoods placed all its bets on Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, The show, however, proved one of the most-talked about theatrical fiascos in Broadway history, inspiring an unwelcome media blitzkrieg of negative press.  This budget-buster of a show (with weekly operating expenditures reported between $1.2 and $1.4 million) was plagued from the get-go with a myriad  of technical difficulties and frightening mishaps, injuries and subsequent lawsuits, from which it never really recovered.

Even a marvel superhero like Spiderman with his minions of millions and rock star roster of brand name backers, producers, directors and choreographers including the seemingly unstoppable, unflappable and impervious Julie Taymor and Bono, could not help Spidey live up to his spectacular promise and prowess, which only goes to show that big money and big names do not guarantee a hit.

In the end, this over-the-top production was an epic loss and co-sponsor Foxwoods Casino has since folded its cards, cashed out and left the building, leaving the revolving door open to the Ambassador Theatre Group, a UK-based firm that bought out the lease last May and announced, just last week, that along with a restorative summer spruce-up, the theatre would reclaim its baptismal name, the ‘Lyric.”

Set to premiere at the old-is-new again Lyric Theatre is the beloved classic “On the Town,” a charming rollick of a musical which showcases three sailors searching for love while on NYC shore leave.  “On the Town” is quite a departure in choice from the long-rumored Australian blockbuster, “King-Kong,” which had been the expected shoo-in for the enormous 1,900 seat performance space.  But King Kong producers, who recently admitted needing more time to get it right, are probably sheepish, and understandably so, about following too closely on the heels of the Spiderman debacle and running the risk of comparison.  And it may just be that the theatre, too, wants to put all the unpleasantness behind it and begin anew with a pretty name and a safe and beloved classic.

In the case of the Ford turned Hilton turned Foxwoods, constant re-branding did not afford this gem of a theatre any real favors.  Corporate sponsorship may have become the norm for sports teams and their stadiums, but what works for baseball doesn’t necessarily work for Broadway. The Mets can play in Shea or they can play in Citi Field, it doesn’t much matter.  They come with a built-in fan base who knows that no matter the emblem on the home stadium, the product they are getting is a good old game of baseball.

So has corporate sponsorship worked anywhere on the Great White Way?  Well, the American Airlines Theatre, main homestead of the beloved Roundabout Theatre Company, is still flying high on the radar.  But the crucial difference between the Selwyn turned American Airlines Theatre and the ever-morphing Lyric, lies in the partnership.  Since 1965, the Roundabout Theatre Company has painstakingly created a consistent brand of high caliber theatre.  The RTC is trusted amongst theatregoers as a quality evening out.  As a result, they have remained loyal to the company, no matter the name emblazoned on the venue in which it presents its works, and in fact so much so, that the American Airlines Theatre is often called the Roundabout Theatre Company by its many devotees.  That is a pretty impressive feat, and as close to a home team as we’ve got here on Broadway.