Wednesday, May 25, 2016

concert review: On the Town

A special semi-staged production of the Bernstein/Comden-and-Green musical by the San Francisco Symphony under MTT. The last time they did one of these, an excellent performance of West Side Story, they did without the dancing. This time the dancing was there, all of it, so the singers had to be people who could dance too, which is perhaps why the songs didn't strike me as coming out as crisp as in a purely concert performance I heard of several of them a few years ago.

West Side Story is of course a classic, but there's a lot of good and funny songs in here too that would make great character pieces even out of context if only they'd get sung more: "Come Up To My Place", "Ya Got Me"*, "I Understand", and especially "Carried Away"** (a duet which Comden and Green wrote for themselves for the first production).

The only problem was one thing that West Side Story has in superb form, but which On the Town lacks entirely: a plot. Wandering around from nightclub to nightclub waiting to see if the guy's date is going to show up is just not that interesting for an audience to watch. The plot problem starts at the very beginning, with the famous opening number in which the sailors sing that they have only one day's shore leave in New York, so there's no time to waste ... presumably on things like standing around singing about how there's no time to waste, so what the hey? A stage play, whether or not it's musical, is a different genre from abstract concert music, and it has to have a storyline that catches the interest, and this one - with three identically-clad protagonists simultaneously introduced, so it took most of the show to remember which was which - just didn't.

But I'd really advise rescuing a few of the cleverer songs from this mudge.

*Four out of the five performers here are the ones I heard this evening.
**These are the performers of the concert version I enjoyed so much.

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