On the Town is based on the 1944 ballet Fancy Free, which Bernstein scored to accompany Jerome Robbins’s choreography. It tells the story of three soldiers who are set loose on New York City for their 24-hour leave. We go with them on their adventures with the women they meet along the way.
The show ends with the sailors getting back on the ship, waving goodbye to their female companions, and three new sailors jump off the ship to start their 24-hour adventures in New York City. This musical comedy really is a love letter to New York, the city Bernstein thought of as his home.
On the Town was premiered on Broadway in 1944, with the film rights sold before the show even hit the stage. It was considered very progressive at the time, as it was the first musical that incorporated black and white characters performing alongside one another in equal roles, with a complete lack of racial stereotyping. Plus, the show’s first conductor, Everett Lee, was the first black conductor and musical director on Broadway.
Listen to the soundtrack of On the Town here: