Theater & dance

Pops fills the stage with Broadway talent for ‘On the Town’

“On the Town” is a personality-driven show. I looked for performers who were very vivid,” says director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
“On the Town” is a personality-driven show. I looked for performers who were very vivid,” says director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall.

The Boston Pops’ upcoming concert version of “On the Town” boasts three-time Tony award-winning director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall at the helm of a Broadway-caliber cast. And both Marshall and Pops conductor Keith Lockhart are excited not only about what the music will sound like, but also about what the performances will look like.

“When I was thinking about what the Pops could bring to this year’s celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday, I immediately thought of his Broadway musicals. When both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Leonard Bernstein Foundation asked us to do something with ‘On the Town,’ it seemed like the perfect fit,” Lockhart says.

“On the Town” will be performed at Symphony Hall May 31 and June 1, and then at Tanglewood July 7.

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Bernstein teamed up with lyricists and book writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green for a show that was based on Jerome Robbins’s 1944 ballet “Fancy Free.” The story revolves around the adventures of three sailors on 24-hour leave in New York City and the women they meet and fall for, and features “New York, New York,” “Lonely Town,” “I Can Cook, Too,” and “Some Other Time.”

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“What made ‘On the Town’ so special,” says Lockhart, “is the way dance is integrated into the piece. There are seven dance episodes in the show, and I thought it was important to connect the music to that movement.”

Lockhart immediately turned to Marshall, whom he’s known since he and her brother Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Annie”) were college classmates. Marshall, earned her first Tony for choreography on another Bernstein musical, “Wonderful Town,” followed by Tonys for “The Pajama Game” and “Anything Goes” (she was also nominated for best director for all three musicals). Marshall has a reputation for encouraging richly nuanced characterizations from actors who are also singing and dancing their hearts out.

“‘On the Town’ is a personality-driven show,” says Marshall during a break from rehearsals in New York. “I looked for performers who were very vivid, and also immensely talented and comfortable with comedy. Bernstein wrote complex, often syncopated rhythms that are not easy to sing.”

Marshall’s cast includes an astonishing array of talent, including Andy Karl (“Groundhog Day”), Brandon Victor Dixon (NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live,” “Hamilton”), Christian Dante White (“Hello, Dolly”), Boston favorite Andrea Martin (“Pippin”), Marc Kudisch (“Finding Neverland”), Megan Lawrence (“The Pajama Game”), Laura Osnes (“Bandstand”), and New York City Ballet ballerina Georgina Pazcoguin.

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“We don’t have the rehearsal time you might have for a Broadway run,” she says, “so I chose performers who wouldn’t be afraid to jump into the deep end of the pool. Their passion will come through.”

Lockhart said he is thrilled with Marshall’s cast. He was blown away recently by Dixon’s performance as Judas on NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live.”

“With this show, we’re asking him to do something totally different,” he says.

Musical director David Chase is assembling the music, working with Marshall to trim some parts of the script and add material elsewhere. There is a licensed concert version of the show, says Lockhart, but it was tailored to showcase Comden and Green, who toured with it, but didn’t include the dance music.

To help set up some scenes, and help move the story forward, Marshall has enlisted Lockhart to serve as narrator, who says he’s happy to be onstage with these performers.

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“I think we are lucky that people are available,” says Marshall, “but performing with the Boston Pops is kind of a dream for most performers, right up there with performing at Carnegie Hall.

‘ “On the Town” is a personality-driven show. I looked for performers who were very vivid.’

“The focus is on the music,” says Marshall, “and we do only have 13 1/2 feet downstage to work with, but we will have some staging and choreography.”

Lockhart laughs when he hears that comment and says, “Great genius needs parameters to inspire them.”

ON THE TOWN

Presented by the Boston Pops. A Symphony Hall May 31 and June 1: at Tanglewood July 7. Tickets: $30-$96, 617-266-1200, www.bso.org

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.