A Night “On The Town” in London’s Open Air Theatre

For a break from London and a breath of old Manhattan, head to Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre for a showing of On The Town. Choreographed and directed by Olivier Award-winner Drew McOnie, the open-air theatre enthusiastically presents their biggest dance musical to date. The storyline, set amidst WWII, sees three sailors arrive in New York City for an unforgettable 24-hour romp around the bustling Big Apple.

On The Town - Set 01

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre recently cadged the 2017 Stage Award as “London Theatre of the Year.” Beyond the English Rose garden and the gold accented theatre entrance, the verdant theatre grounds swell with delighted picnickers sprawling out on the lawn. Just outside the theatre, green plants crawl up trellises surrounding the concessions stand amidst generous festoons of twinkling fairy lights. The serene atmosphere is honestly magical, so an evening show at the open-air theatre would make for a delightfully romantic British summertime date. The stage itself is steeply raked, a relief for short attendees like myself, and I was shocked to learn that the theatre holds more than 1000 guests because the venue felt so intimate. I highly recommend Londoners and tourists alike to book a show during the 18-week season.*

On The Town Synopsis

On The Town opens with soft golden light and foghorns at the Brooklyn Navy Shipyard. The sleepy pace of “I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet” is soon ramped up with the jaunty and optimistic “New York, New York” tune. The newly arrived contingent of sailors rocket around stage in classic jazz squares and chasses patterns; they turn and leap, weaving in between vibrantly dressed locals, clearly smitten by the cosmopolitan ladies. And although the three lead sailors planned to soak up the entire big city experience, including the iconic sites, their mission becomes clear on the subway: they must find Miss Turnstiles for Gabey.

Siena Kelly and Danny Mac as Ivy and Gabey.
Photo Jane Hobson. Used with permission from Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

Bright-eyed Gabey, played by an affable Danny Mac, and his two wingmen all split up to find Ivy Smith (Siena Kelly), recently named the monthly Miss Turnstiles. Hotshot Ozzie (Samuel Edwards) hits it off with a highly repressed, hot-under-the-collar anthropologist, Claire (Miriam-Teak Lee), at the Natural History Museum – while type-A tourist Chip (Jacob Maynard) is slowly seduced by the persistent, brash and unabashed cab driver, Hildy (Lizzy Connolly). And although star-struck Gabey finds and convinces Ivy to meet up with him for a date night ‘on the town,’ she is soon blackmailed by her whiskey-loving voice coach. Ivy is forced to attend her job on Coney Island in lieu of meeting Gabey in Times Square because otherwise Madame Dilly, played by veteran Maggie Steed, will out her Miss Turnstiles interview lies.

ON THE TOWN, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London, Britain - 24 May 2017

Lizzy Connolly, Samuel Edwards, Jacob Maynard, Miriam-Teak Lee & Danny Mac as Hildy, Ozzie, Chip, Claire and Gabey.
Photo Jane Hobson. Used with permission from Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre.

On The Town Review

On The Town is a spritely musical, sprinkled with comedy and infused with the carpe diem spirit. Leonard Bernstein’s score played by the live band brings the New York City streets alive, and clever staging and set design allows for seamless transitions. However, my favourite interludes are led by the diligent senior female vigilante. Searching for the sailors after they stole the Miss Turnstiles poster from the subway, the justice-bent citizen directs an ever-growing brigade with loping leaps and a barrage of punches before hunching over and limping off stage.

McOnie stages a spectacular show with dance choreography that not only draws from jazz with fan kicks and pops onto forced arch; the repertoire also includes a jive duet, a short ballet scene and contemporary dance with partnering, floor work and unique gestures. The feeling of repression, shown by a strong and sustained pressing action in front of the torso, was especially poignant during the gay local’s solo after a sailor left his place. On The Town showcases dynamic musical theatre choreography, characteristic of Broadway, in addition to more introspective and subtle moments that add depth to the show.


Siena Kelly and Danny Mac as Ivy and Gabey. Photo Johan Persson. (2)

Siena Kelly and Danny Mac as Ivy and Gabey.
Photo Johan Persson. Used with permission from Regent Park’s Theatre.

The well-jelled cast of agile dancers convey the ritzy glamour of old NYC and effuse the youthful “anything is possible” mentality, while acknowledging the truth that sometimes “even a lifetime isn’t enough.” A dream sequence in the second half featuring an imagined Coney Island and a war scene are slightly disconnected, but upon reflection, they do serve to contextualise the play. While the alcohol imbibing opportunist Madame Dilly, normally uptight academic Claire, usually understanding Judge (Mark Heenehan) and constantly sneezing Lucy (Naoko Mori) all make their characters impressively memorable – Lizzy Connolly makes Hildy absolutely irresistible. She tantalises at her apartment during “I Know How To Cook,” demonstrating an impressive set of pipes, which prove that she also knows how to sing.

Although the play is set in New York (yes, yes, “it’s a helluva town!”), the amicable characters all look to make connections with others during their short stay. Their camaraderie shines through in “You Got Me,” and their lingering friendship faintly promises to abide in “Some Other Time.” On The Town is a feel good show with streaks of raciness and allusions to booze, and it’s all in good fun. The show only runs until 1 July, so you’ll want to book your tickets quickly.

ON THE TOWN, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London, Britain - 24 May 2017

Ensemble. Photo Jane Hobson. Used with permission from Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre.

*The 18-week theatre season is for all productions, not just On The Town, which only runs until 1 July.

Disclosure: Up&AtEm Travel was provided show tickets for ‘On The Town’ at Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre in exchange for an honest review. To work with me for show reviews and more, come and say ‘hello’ here!

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  1. I saw this show on Broadway and loved it. It really is a cute story and so funny.

    1. Author

      That’s great, Anisa. It must have been fun to see on Broadway, too! I was glad to catch a hint of NYC in London since it reminded me of a summer I spent there for a dance conference. 🙂

  2. Your post is amazing!!!! I am a fan of any kind of Theatre and arts. The open theatre seems likes a magical place!! I will put it on my bucket list for the next visit in London. 🙂

    1. Author

      Penelopi, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is absolutely magical! I do hope you stop by and see a show. Although the shows do change, the venue is worth a visit in and of itself!

  3. This is so freakin cool! I’ve never seen an open-air theatre like this before. Definitely would love to try this out next time I’m in town!

    1. Author

      It was a really neat place to view a show! I especially enjoyed it because I like to think the history of open-air theatre performances, especially in London. I hope you get the chance to experience it for yourself!

  4. This is such a great way to experience the outdoors! The stage looks beautiful! 🙂 Thanks for sharing

    1. Author

      I definitely agree, Charmaine. And I think the short period of really pleasant British summer time makes it that much more special, too!

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