By the end of Theatre Under The Stars’ spectacular production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, you’ll find it easy to believe that the cast have 894 combined years of dance experience under their belt!
If you’re a fan of Broadway classics such as West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and On the Town, you have Jerome Robbins to thank for his historic choreography direction in these iconic productions! Jerome Robbins’ Broadway is a generation-spanning musical anthology that not only serves as a testament to the lasting legacy that Robbins has left behind in the world of musical theatre, but also as a reminder of how far society has come.
Debuting on Broadway 30 years ago and selected to commemorate TUTS’ 50th season, the show begins with three songs from On the Town, based on one of Robbins’ first credits in choreography, Fancy Free, surrounding three rambunctious sailors in New York City as they try to find some action.
In order to properly enjoy any form of theatre, audiences must willingly suspend all notions of the real world outside and live in the world that’s being created before their eyes – however, audiences had to work rather hard to suspend all notions, as the mentioned sailors danced across the stage while catcalling women walking by and ogling as if they hadn’t been on land or seen another woman in a while.
It seemed as if Cynthia Onrubia, the show’s director, was careful in merging the everyday hyper-sexualization in the mid-1940’s with the socially conscious society of 2019, as the cat-calling and groping was kept to a minimum, so props to Onrubia on that.
However, the three sailor’s choreography that was more respectful was perfectly in-sync as the friends gracefully pranced and confidently swaggered across the stage, bringing the audience with them on their journey to making the most of their time in New York City.
The introduction perfectly set the pace for the entire show as a fast-paced, don’t-blink-or-you-might-miss-it “greatest hits” production as Billion Dollar Baby follower, depicting a hidden speakeasy and its regulars, followed by an intimate duet from High Buttoned Shoes.
The first act wrapped up with a beautifully done suite of dances from West Side Story, one of the most successful Broadway musicals of the 20th century.
The attention to detail for this segment was precise, from the antonymous outfits of the rival Sharks and Jets gangs to the truthful set design illustrating the alleys and establishments of the Upper West Side in the 1950’s.
Despite the fact that the entire play is a compilation of several plays that are only tied together by a convivial narrator and Jerome Robbins’ choreography, West Side Story‘s suite glamorously tells the story of forbidden love in the short amount of time it was given while still providing a breathtaking performance leaving much of the audience to their feet for a standing ovation leading into intermission.
As if the audience forgot how politically incorrect the 1950’s was in today’s standards, the second act opened up with The King and I, featuring a mainly-white cast in stereotypical oriental garments and accents. While the story was well-told and the set design elaborately glistened more than all of the musicals presented in the first act, the audience couldn’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable.
The second act also showcased a hilarious performance of “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” from Gypsy that included a lit-up brassiere and underwear, a soulful rendition of “Mr. Monotony” written for Miss Liberty and Call Me Madam featuring a compelling dance sequence illustrating a heartbreaking love triangle, and a high-flying excerpt from Peter Pan that raised the youthful hero and the Darling siblings as well as lifted the spirits of the audience watching.
One of the highlights of the entire show was when High Button Shoes returned to the stage with a performance of “On a Sunday by the Sea,” which was one of the most fun I’ve had in the theatre in years. A musical chase scene that combined elements of Indiana Jones and Scooby Doo, “On a Sunday by the Sea” was a masterpiece of an excerpt that had the audience on the edge of their seat as characters raced around the stage, running into one changing room on the beach and leaping out of another one, and even hiding from a gorilla at one point!
An anthology of Robbins’ Broadway classics would be incomplete without Fiddler on the Roof, which served as the penultimate piece ending with enthusiastic applause. Complete with the iconic arm-flailing choreography of “Tradition,” the signature Robbins dream ballet, and quintessential maneuvering of the bottle-dancers having audiences holding their breaths, the Fiddler on the Roof excerpt was a perfectly executed homage to a staple musical of the American theatre.
Theatre Under the Stars’ production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway masterfully captures the choreography Robbins meticulously labored on all his life, and while the subject matter could definitely portray an unflattering sign of the times, the eloquent storytelling and diligent ensemble performances left a legacy in the Hobby Center that could only live up to the man that started it all.