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Theatre / On the Town

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On the Town is a 1944 musical comedy written by Comden and Green, with music by Leonard Bernstein, about the adventures of three sailors on liberty in New York City. Traveling around the city by cab and subway, they variously visit the Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Hall, Coney Island (in both imaginary and real versions), three nightclubs and two girls' apartments before their twenty-four hours are up.

It began life as a ballet called Fancy Free, which choreographer Jerome Robbins worked on using a score by Bernstein; it was about three sailors on leave, but took place entirely around one bar location. Robbins was one of the original creators when it was adapted into a longer musical with scenes and singing, and there are extensive dance sequences, including the Dream Ballet in Act II.

The musical was adapted into a 1949 MGM film directed by Stanley Donen, which featured Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, and not much of the original score. Comden and Green were around to write the screenplay, so the plot stayed roughly the same. It got a Broadway revival in 2013, just in time for its 70th anniversary the next year, and was rewarded with a Tony Award nomination.

See also Anchors Aweigh (the first pairing of Kelly and Sinatra).

This musical show includes examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: When Gabey dismisses the beauty of a passing New York girl, Ozzie asks, "Who you got waiting for you in New York, Ava Gardner?" Frank Sinatra was having an affair with Gardner at the time.
  • Adapted Out: Claire's fiancé Pitkin is absent from the film, which serves to remove the adulterous implications of her affair with Ozzie.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Robbins and Bernstein created a 20-minute ballet called Fancy Free and used it as the basis for their first Broadway musical. The adaptation was loose enough that no music was recycled.
  • Admiring the Poster: Gabey, a sailor on 24-hour leave in New York City, sees a poster for "Miss Turnstiles" in the subway and immediately falls in love with her. A large portion of the plot involves him trying to meet the girl from the poster.
  • The Alcoholic: Madame Dilly, Ivy's singing/acting teacher, is always drunk and usually drinking. In fact, Ivy and Gabey have the chance to talk because she stepped out of the studio to get more beer.
    Madame Dilly: I'll be back before you can say Jack Daniels ó Jack Robinson!
  • And Then I Said: Flossie strolls across the scene, always chatting to her girlfriend about what she said to her employer, Mr. Gadolphin. Her friend keeps asking her, "So what did he say?" Flossie ignores this question, continuing to talk about what she said to him.
  • Big Applesauce ("New York, New York, it's a helluva town...")
  • Bowdlerise: The film version "New York, New York, a helluva town" to "New York, New York, a wonderful town." A few years later, the Bowdlerised refrain gave a title to Comden and Green's Broadway musical Wonderful Town.
  • Brake Angrily: During "Come Up To My Place", Hildy slams on the brakes harder every time Chip insists on seeing an attraction from his outdated New York City guidebook.
    Chip: Hey, what did you stop for?
    Hildy: It ain't there anymore...
  • Creator Cameo: On the 1960 Columbia recording, Leonard Bernstein not only conducts but also sings the part of the barker at Coney Island ("Rajah Bimmy"). When the recording was first issued, the singer was credited as Randel Striboneen. (It also had Betty Comden and Adolph Green in their original roles, which are hardly cameos.)
  • Cue Card Pause / That Came Out Wrong: "You're Awful"
  • Dainty Little Ballet Dancers: The "Miss Turnstiles" ballet has Ivy Smith assuming an improbably wide range of personalities. Ivy and her Leitmotif are presented at first in a delicate "Allegretto di 'Ballet Class'" (which is in 5/4 time), though the ensuing variations on her theme culminate by showing off her athletic side.
  • Double Take: Lucy does one between the following lines and exiting the scene:
    Chip: Well, goodbye, Miss Schmeeler.
    Lucy: Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
  • Dream Ballet: "The Imaginary Coney Island". "A Day In New York" in the film version uses much of the same music.
  • The Driver: An unusual case of a driver becoming a main character. Brunhilde "Hildy" Esterhazy, after getting fired for sleeping on the job, picks up Chip and aggressively establishes herself as his love interest, demanding his itinerary include her place when he gets in her cab. In the film, Hildy drives Chip, Ozzie, Claire and Gabey to Coney Island with the police on the chase.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Gabey falls for Ivy's poster and most of the show is his attempt to find her. The two only share around 3 or so scenes together (most of their shared stage time is a dream ballet too).
  • Escalating Chase: The chase starts with a little old lady trying to get Gabey arrested for tearing a poster down in the New York City Subway. To her and a policeman are added Hildy's boss going after her for stealing a cab after he fired her, the man who built the dinosaur skeleton Claire and Ozzie destroyed, and finally Claire's judge fiancé, who does not understand why the protagonists have gotten themselves into so much trouble.
  • Everything Has Rhythm: In the film, when Gabey loses Ivy in "A Day in New York", he uses her "Miss Turnstiles" poster as a substitute dance partner.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The protagonists have only twenty-four hours for their adventures.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Hildy claims she can cook, but the bill of fare she presents to Chip consists of Double Entendres served up in a List Song. She does, with great effort, manage to prepare one specialty: a peeled banana.
  • Freudian Slip: Madame Dilly, finding her bottle empty, excuses herself from the room, telling Ivy, "I'll be back before you can say Jack DanielsóJack Robinson."
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: Three males (Gabey, Chip and Ozzie) and three females (Ivy, Hildy and Claire).
  • Happy Birthday to You!: The emcee at Diamond Eddie's invites the crowd to sing "Happy Birthday" for a "man we all know and love" whose name means nothing at all to the main characters or the audience. Oddly enough (for probably this reason) the script doesn't contain the lyrics or music; it only instructs the actors to sing "Happy Birthday."
  • Here We Go Again!: Chip, Ozzie and Gabey's twenty-four hours are up, and they return to the ship...but three new sailors get off the ship on their shore leave, singing "New York, New York." (The ending of the film version is the same, and the ballet the musical was modeled on, Fancy Free, had a very similar ending, with the exuberant opening music of "Enter Three Sailors" making a sudden return.)
  • Hero of Another Story: The film version ends with the protagonists saying goodbye to the girls they met as they reboard their ship at the end of their one-day shore pass. Then, as the clock strikes 6:00 AM, another group of sailors swarms off the ship to have their own adventures in New York City.
  • Horny Sailors: The plot runs on this premise, with three sailors all seeking to hook up in an Extremely Short Timespan.
  • Hurricane of Puns: "You Can Count on Me" from the film version ends each verse with a really bad pun. The characters even groan at the first one!
    Chip: As the adding machine once said, you can count on me.
    *cast groans and looks embarrassed*
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Madame Dilly cautions Ivy: "Sex and art don't mix. If they did, I'd have gone right to the top."
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: The second act starts with an irrelevant burlesque chorus of "So Long, Baby," though the also irrelevant Cut Song "The Intermission's Great" originally preceded this. (The next number is, of all things, "Happy Birthday to You!.")
  • It's for a Book: In the film version, Claire kissing Ozzie claims "it's for research". Hildy says, "Dr. Kinsey, I presume?"
  • Just Take the Poster: Gabey takes down the poster of Miss Turnstiles on the subway train, determined to find her. A little old lady immediately gets up to protest his vandalism, and hollers for a policeman, which starts an Escalating Chase.
  • Lady Drunk: Madame Dilly is a cynical old harridan who can't give a singing lesson without a bottle of whiskey to take a Quick Nip from.
  • Layman's Terms: Claire explains her behavior to Ozzie in the recitative verse of "Carried Away":
    Claire: Modern man, what is it? Just a collection of complexes and neurotic impulses that occasionally break through.
    Ozzie: You mean sometimes you blow your top like me?
    Claire: I do.
  • Location Song: "New York, New York" is sung by three sailors to express their joy about the splendor of the city. "New York, New York" is often cited as the first Hollywood musical number shot entirely on-location, and though there are certain prior examples (such as MGM's 1929 Hallelujah!, shot entirely on-location), "New York, New York" is easily the most extensive and noted. In a few shots, particularly Rockefeller Center, throngs of crowds can be seen just off-camera, trying to catch a glimpse of the stars.
  • Malaproper: "Oh, I know. I'm gonna be arrested for disnuding in public".
  • Medley Overture:
    • The Overture is a medley of "New York, New York," "Lucky to Be Me," "Lonely Town" and "I Can Cook, Too."
    • The Entr'acte is a relaxed medley of "I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet" (oddly enough for such an unimportant song, it gets triple play here) and "Lucky to Be Me.
  • Moment Killer: Hildy and Chip's embrace is rudely interrupted by her roommate Lucy Schmeeler's violent sneezing and inhaler use.
    Lucy: Y'know, Hildy, this is just like taking a picture. If I had a camera, I could get the two of you together.
    Hildy: You could do that by just leaving the room.
  • Movie Bonus Song:
    • "Prehistoric Man," "Main Street," "You're Awful," "On The Town," "Count On Me" and "That's All There Is, Folks". MGM teamed Comden and Green with Roger Edens to replace most of Bernstein's songs so their publisher could own most of the score.
    • Basically a "Movie Bonus Score," all but "New York, New York," "Come Up to My Place," and a few instrumental pieces were cut from the stage version.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Hildy deliberately interrupts the ridiculously lugubrious song "I Wish I Was Dead" in two different nightclubs.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Ya Got Me" from On the Town, sung by Claire, Hily, Chip and Ozzie to cheer the still-dateless Gabey up.
  • Punny Name: A few of these used for one-off jokes:
    • Claire's full name is Claire De Loone.
    • John Offenblock is known to all by his nickname, Chip.
    • Mr. Uperman, Hildy's boss, is identified by the back of his jacket as "S. Uperman."
  • Race Against the Clock: In the film version, the three protagonists have 24 hours of liberty (6 AM to 6 AM) to see all of New York City. Occasionally, the time scrolls across the bottom of the screen in the manner of the original 1928 news "zipper" mounted on One Times Square.
  • Recurring Extra: Flossie can be seen wandering through several scenes with a friend, telling her the middle of some story about Mr. Gadolphin.
  • Rousing Speech: The movie has Claire, Hildy and Ivy giving speeches to the police passionately justifying their actions as just doing their patriotic duty to the Navy.
  • Sad-Times Montage: The "Lonely Town" ballet expresses Gabey's feeling of being lost in New York City.
  • Scare Chord: At exactly 6 AM ("Aw, six o'clock, will ya!"), the opening scene's tranquil music suddenly gives way to dissonant and forceful chords as the ship's whistle blows and the stage begins to swarm with workmen and sailors, including the three protagonists.
  • Scooby Stack: The film has this when Ozzie, Claire, Chip, Hildy and Gabey are hiding behind a corner on top of the Empire State Building.
  • Shave And A Haircut: The film has the main characters hiding under a street vendor's stand while being chased by police. One of them sticks out a sign saying, "Shave and a Haircut—75¢,"note  and the familiar snippet is heard.
  • Talent Double: The show used a double for the Dream Ballet's "Gabey the Great Lover" in the original production, but revivals usually avert this.
  • That's All, Folks!: Every nightclub show in town ends with the song "That's All There Is, Folks".
  • Triumphant Reprise: The show ends with another trio of sailors on shore leave singing "New York, New York!"
  • Why We Can't Have Nice Things: The characters take a trip to the Museum of Natural History, which ends with them demolishing a dinosaur skeleton.

Alternative Title(s): On The Town