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'On the Town'

The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival presents "On the Town" through Aug. 27 at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in Owasco.

When you go "on the town" you dress in your finest duds, downplay your flaws and generally try to be your absolute best.

The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival does just that to the 1944 musical, a low-conflict love letter to New York City. Normally, Betty Comden and Adolph Green's period story would be a dated romp despite boasting many memorable numbers by Leonard Bernstein. But in the festival's many talented hands, the show is a technical tour de force with knockout performances and spot-on choreography.

Anchoring it all are Michael Warrell, Drew Humphrey and Xavier Cano as Ozzie, Chip and Gabey, three wartime sailors on 24 hours of shore leave in New York City. Warrell's an amusing brute, Humphrey drunkenly stumbles and smooches quite deftly, and Cano serenades the "Lonely Town" with the most soul of the three. But for all their efforts — including a stellar rendition of "New York, New York" — the sailors can't help having the show hijacked from them.

First, it's by the set. Director Brett Smock, scenic designer Czerton Lim and production manager Emily Reid imaginatively realize their New York with seven towering white letters spelling the city's name — and for all their slapdash size and placement, they double as a surprisingly unified projection surface.

Projections designer Brad Peterson first paints the canvas with skylines and subway tunnels, depicting the Big Apple impressively, if matter-of-factly. However, he mines all its trippy potential beginning with "Carried Away's" tribal breakdown and continuing with a crazy nightclub-hopping sequence in the second act.

By then, though, "On the Town" surrenders to the ladies. As Hildy, Alaina Mills is the most charismatic force in the show, aggressively wooing Chip and absolutely smoking highlight number "I Can Cook Too." Jennifer Byrne has whip-smart comic timing as anthropologist Claire De Loone, who can't keep up her doctoral detachment around the macho Ozzie. And Shannon O'Bryan, as conflicted Gabey crush Ivy Smith, is the kind of charmer the show needs to hold together an otherwise thin source of tension.

Feeding the ladies' 24-hour love affairs with the sailors is Smock's distinctly sensual choreography, which was also on display in "42nd Street" and "Cabaret." But it'll be hard to find another Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival show where the sets are an equally dazzling part of the ensemble.

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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