5 takeaways from Wright State’s funny, sexy ‘On the Town’



Feel-good joy delivered with proficient professionalism makes Wright State University’s production of “On the Town” a stellar experience.

Best known for the song “New York, New York,” this throwback to wartime 1944 concerns Gabey, Ozzie and Chip, three lighthearted sailors on 24-hour shore leave in the Big Apple. Open to the possibilities of fun-loving adventure, Gabey becomes smitten with aspiring performer Ivy Smith (a.k.a. Miss Turnstiles), Ozzie canoodles with anthropologist Claire de Loone, and Chip falls for cab driver Hildy Estherhazy.

It’s been nearly 20 years since “On the Town” has been produced in Dayton. Directed by Joe Deer and choreographed by Josh Walden, here are five reasons why Wright State’s enjoyably acted, impressively danced presentation should be on your radar.



1. Men on a mission

Within the opening minutes, it’s crucial to believe in Gabey, Ozzie and Chip’s friendship, the intrinsic, unbreakable bond among military brothers who would go to any lengths to protect and support each other. Tanner Gleeson (Gabey), John Cuozzo (Ozzie) and Ben Ohnemus (Chip) are a fundamentally terrific trio so eager and wide-eyed to live their day to the fullest together that you can’t help but root for them at every turn. One of the biggest discoveries of this production is to finally witness these actors as triple threats. Who knew Cuozzo, a mysteriously menacing Mr. Paravicini lurking around the stage last fall in “The Mousetrap,” was a legitimate song-and-dance man? Gleeson, a bright tenor exuding All-American-Boy-Next-Door vibes befitting his role, not only hits the gorgeous ballad “Lonely Town” out of the park, but expressively shines in the ballets. Ohnemus, seen last fall as Lt. Eddie Souther in “Sister Act,” delights again with funny physicality, particularly in “Come Up to My Place” which finds Chip on an unexpectedly bumpy ride through Manhattan.

2. Women taking charge

There’s no denying the power displayed by the lovely ladies who give the principal trio a day they’ll never forget. Trinity Wolff, bold and big-voiced, is a natural fit for the outgoing Hildy, who never fails to keep naïve Chip in the palm of her hands, especially when professing “I Can Cook Too.” As seemingly buttoned-down Claire, wonderfully precise Melissa Matarrese gets “Carried Away” to the hilt with Cuozzo with credible sexual tension to boot. Amy Van Dyke sheds her memorably meek shell as Sister Mary Robert in “Sister Act” last fall to blossom here into a fabulously seductive Ivy, luring Gleeson with passionate intent and elegant movement in the ballets.



3. Funny featured roles

Kevin Lausche pulls delightful double duty as the self-indulgent Announcer in “Presentation of Miss Turnstiles” and the repeatedly deferential Judge Pitkin, Claire’s beau whose mantra, “I Understand,” ultimately takes its toll. Funny featured roles are also given by: Sam Evans, who delivered a remarkable rendition of “Not a Day Goes By” in WSU’s “An Evening of Sondheim” with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, as Ivy’s kooky teacher Madame Dilly; and Aliya Pimental as Hildy’s hopelessly congested roommate Lucy Schmeeler.

4. Storytelling finesse

Deer breezily helms with comedic charm reflective of the era aided by appealing scenery by Pam Lavarnway and great projections to heighten the Big Apple ambience. Walden, the associate director/choreographer for the Tony-nominated Broadway revival of “Ragtime” among other credits, takes routines synonymous with the legacy of original choreographer Jerome Robbins and reinterprets them with refreshing storytelling finesse. In addition to the ensemble’s unified rigidity in “New York, New York” and the stunning, beautifully executed ballets, I personally loved the brief homage to “42nd Street” during “Carried Away.”



5. Bernstein bliss

Musical director F. Wade Russo’s vibrant 19-piece, onstage orchestra brings polished pizzazz to Leonard Bernstein’s tremendous music, which bursts with the personality and vibrancy of New York City. Hearing his score, featuring lyrics by the equally iconic Betty Comden and Adolph Green, performed with such skill solidifies the production as a helluva show.


What: “On the Town”

Where: Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn

When: Through April 8; 7 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $15-$25

Tickets: 937-775-2500 or https://liberal-arts.wright.edu/fine-and-performing-arts/box-office-and-current-season

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