Symphony’s ‘On the Town’ is a shot of elation

James Darrah
San Francisco Gate

Just before the intermission in “On the Town,” Gabey — one of the wide-eyed, girl-crazy sailors enjoying one day of shore leave in New York City — indulges in a moment of sheer self-satisfied elation. “There’s no other guy I’d rather be,” he sings. “I’m lucky to be me.”

Anyone happy enough to be sitting in Davies Symphony Hall on Wednesday night, May 25, during the San Francisco Symphony’s magnificent performance of this Broadway classic knew just how he felt.

What Michael Tilson Thomas and a cast of wonderfully gifted singers have created is nothing less than a bolt of pure concentrated euphoria, one of the zippiest and most delightful theatrical presentations the Symphony has put forward in years — and yes, that includes the previous “On the Town” from 20 years back, which marked the first U.S. performances of the uncut score.

On Wednesday, Leonard Bernstein’s jazzy, hyperventilating music sounded even more brilliant and expansive than ever. The lyrics, by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, tumbled and turned through their verbal gyrations — now intricately and ornately rhymed, now achingly plainspoken.

And this semistaged version — directed by James Darrah and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, restaged here by Chip Abbott — sprinkles glimpses of Jerome Robbins’ exquisite original mounting around the hall without losing any of its own personality.

The result is an exhilarating evening of inventiveness, wit and rueful emotion that makes a potent case for “On the Town” as one of the great masterpieces of the American musical theater. Or it would, at least, if you could find a moment during its two hours to stop laughing and marveling long enough to think the proposition through.

Good luck with that, because one of the hallmarks of this production is its relentless kinetic energy. The show begins just before 6 a.m. in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, and it ends exactly 24 hours later in the same spot (Aristotle would have approved).

But ultimately, the evening was a showcase for the exuberant young talents who created this amazing concoction in the first place. More than 70 years after its premiere, “On the Town” continues to shine and shimmer like a fresh-cut diamond.

Read the rest of the review here