Bernstein: On The Town

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bernstein
WORKS: On The Town
PERFORMER: Frederica von Stade, Tyne Daly, Marie McLaughlin, Thomas Hampson, Kurt Ollmann, David Garrison, Cleo Laine, Samuel Ramey, Evelyn Lear; London Voices, LSO/Michael Tilson Thomas
Broadway musicals performed by opera singers are often a mixed blessing: the voices can seem over-developed, affected even. Happily, this live recording from the Barbican of Bernstein’s 1944 show (which ran for 463 performances when it was first staged) proves a glorious exception. The starry and mostly American cast is perfectly at home with the idiom and the result is a performance that is quite brilliantly characterised and musically impeccable.


From the opening longshoreman’s lament, splendidly sung by Samuel Ramey (in one of three tiny roles), you know you are in for a treat. Thomas Hampson is a resonant but relaxed Gabey, whose manner contrasts well with the edgier baritone of Kurt Ollmann’s Chip, and Frederica von Stade is marvellously seductive and funny as the predatory anthropologist Claire De Lune. The Scottish soprano Marie McLaughlin is winning in the role of Miss Turnstiles, and Evelyn Lear gives a deliciously over-the-top performance as the dipso Miss Dilly.

But the real star of the show is Tyne Daly (of Cagney and Lacey fame)as the cab-driving Hildy (short for Brünnhilde Esterházy). Her voice maybe lighter and more strident than her colleagues’, but it is the authentic sound of Broadway, and her knock-your-socks-off delivery brings the house down, particularly in the ebullient ‘I Can Cook Too’ which, like the show’s other great number, the poignant ‘Some Other Time’, were among those dropped from the MGM film.


The LSO under Michael Tilson Thomas is on fine form in the extended orchestral passages. The brass – particularly John Harle’s saxophone – is outstanding in its swinging exuberance. Claire Wrathall