I really don’t understand how this wacky, bizarre musical is considered a classic, and I reeeeally don’t understand whoever calls it a family show. The current revival is really good, very well done, but the material is off the charts nuts, just a gallimaufry of seemingly unrelated scenes, sight gags, baudy jokes, and nonsense that will have you wide-eyed and asking the stranger sitting next to you “Hey…hey man…what the hell is happening on that stage?...it’s happening, right?” P.S., this is the only instance where I condone talking in the theatre. Just to find out if you are hallucinating real fast.
Tony Yazbeck, a Tony nominee for his work here, plays Gabey, so yeah he’s 9 years old, and he has his heart set on a certain Miss Turnstiles, the girl whose poster is all over the subways because she won a weird creepy little beauty pageant. We flashback to the actual creepy ass pageant, where our heroine (?) Ivy wins. She has an annoying voice but is a beautiful dancer. We like her fine. So obviously we worry that some rando sailor is on the loose searching for her. (She’s played by actual New York City Ballet-erina Megan Fairchild, whose little brother Robert is a few blocks away kicking ass in “An American In Paris”! Both starring in Tony-nominated-famous-for-Gene-Kelly shows! I hope they don’t have another sibling.)
Our other two sailors, Chip and Ozzie, vow to help Gabey (we are either working with preschoolers or chipmunks here) find Ivy. Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Ozzie (Clyde Alves) separate to try to find her, because, well, it’s easier to find a random girl in NYC if you split up. P.S., I’m going to use the words ‘rando’ and ‘random’ 100x here and I thought it was worth mentioning that the director of this show is John Rando. Can’t make this shit up.
Chip hops into a cab that happens to be driven by a youngish white woman, but instead of being cool about how women can be cab drivers, the woman Hildy (Alysha Umphress) pretty much kidnaps Chip and assaults him. He begs to be let off at any of the famous places he wants to see but she refuses and instead takes him to her apartment, while singing a song to this perfect stranger called “Come Up To My Place”. But it’s okay because she’s a woman! It’s cool! No it’s not. It’s so freaking weird and creepy that we are supposed to laugh and love their dynamic when it’s still a victim and a sex offender. It’s like she’s an Uber driver and not a yellow cabbie.
Chip is too dumb to mind, really, which I guess is lucky. Alysha has a great booming voice (you may recognize her as one of the trolls in the Frozen 2 (Frozen Again) video. He indeed goes up to her place and is like fine with it? but still dumb and totally confused? And he meets Hildy’s sad pathetic roommate who is really probably the least necessary character in any show ever. She has a cold and sneezes a lot. I do too.
Our third Sailor, Ozzie, seems equally dumb but I think he’s a bit of a calculating genius, because he offers to look for Ivy in NYC landmarks and big museums. Meaning, he gets to see the stuff he wants to see. He’s a smart cookie. Named Ozzie. He goes to the Museum of Natural History and is in the Early Humans room with apes and Neanderthals and what not and there’s a blonde sitting on the bench writing! Look! A blonde! Her name is Claire de Loone (not joking, and yes she is a loon) (played by Elizabeth Stanley who is like the Ann Veal of Broadway musicals) and she is doing anthropology research. She asks Ozzie if she can measure him, because apparently her advanced scientific research is to find men and record their measurements, so apparently she is less apt for anthropology than she is for just anthropologie.
When Claire takes men’s measurements, she naturally finds them irresistible and, even though she is engaged to a judge, she seduces them. Again, family show. So she and Ozzie get carried away and sing one of the most hideous songs I’ve ever heard, not joking, called “Carried Away”, which is in some godawful minor key with a horrible melody. Then the early humans on display and the primate models COME TO LIFE and they all dance and sing this acne song with the apes and the homo habilis and everyone is like acid tripping more than Willy Wonka and at this point my companion said ‘What is happening?’ and it was insane. What is this show.
Back to sailor #1, Gabey, who is so depressed and lonely wandering about NYC because he hasn’t found this girl on the poster yet. I'm pretty sure he sings "I'm So Ronery" at this point; could have been something else. In a flash of smarts/stalkerness, he goes to Carnegie Hall because the poster said she studied there. And hey will you look at that, he goes in to the rehearsal rooms and she’s there! Yay! Show over! No it’s not. They meet and he asks her out and she says yes! I wanted to yell “No Ivy don’t! He’s some random sailor!” but I didn’t.
Luckily, Ivy’s voice teacher is Jackie Hoffman, the funniest person, the best thing about most productions she’s in or even not in. She’s a drunk voice teacher here as well as an angry old lady running through the streets during the rest of the show. Most of her anger is from seeing the sailors vandalize property and harassing people. We’re supposed to think she’s crazy and laugh at her but she’s actually the only sane character in the entire show.
Gabey and Ivy plan to meet that night, but sadly the voice teacher forces Ivy to work that night (as a dancer on Coney Island it’s not weird) or else she’ll smear her reputation. I mean she was doing her a favor. So Ivy stands Gabey up and Gabey is sad because he’s nine.
The sailors and the two non-Ivy random women all agree to meet up at a club where Claire and her judge-fiancé are having an engagement party with no guests. Gabey is so so sad, and Jackie Hoffman is a lounge singer singing a song called “I Wish I Was Dead”. It’s a weird start. The group bar hops a few times, each time leaving Claire’s judge-fiancé (who is okay with her having affairs) to pay the bills, each time entering a new club to find Jackie Hoffman singing the same song. Finally Jackie Hoffman is in a bar not as a lounge singer but as the drunk vocal coach, and Gabey gets out of her that Ivy is at Coney Island. So they all RUN to Coney Island! Yay!
On the way to Coney Island, Gabey dreams about meeting Ivy, and they have a beautiful dream ballet which is the real reason for seeing this show. Considering Ivy is played by a ballerina and not really an actress, and that the rest of the show is nonsense and this is beautiful, this is where she and the show come to life. It’s really the saving grace of this show.
Gabey finds Ivy on Coney Island pretty easily. She’s a belly dancer sort of thing in a club’s harem. Awwwkward. Gabey “accidentally” rips her costume off, and she’s arrested for indecent exposure! The cops come about the time the rest of the boys and their girls come. The three sailors are taken to the naval authorities for cavorting with this CRIMINAL who dared show her belly and all seems lost as the boys board their ship, but then the three women chase them saying how the judge helped clear all the police mess. And they all get to say goodbye and happily look back on the ridiculously random and disturbing day they had.
The whole thing makes so little sense that it was almost hilarious and worth seeing for that reason. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so surprised by a show. I guess I had no idea what it was about. The cast is uniformly great, they’re just given the wackiest material to work with. Godspeed to them.