John Ambrosino (photo: courtesy Lyric Stage)
Avenue Q actor trades puppets for a sailor uniform in On the Town; playing at Lyric Stage from May 10 - June 8.
By Loren King
John Ambrosino has fond memories of watching On the Town on VHS back in the ‘80s, when as a kid he soaked up all the classic movie musical he could find in the video store. “I was enthralled by the performances,” he says of the 1949 film. Now Ambrosino is busy prepping for the demanding singing/dancing lead in the Lyric Stage’s production of On The Town (he’s got the Gene Kelly role) which runs May 10 to June 8.
“[Director] Spiro [Veloudos] is bringing a completely fresh set of eyes to it. I hope I won’t be compared with Gene Kelly. I’m going to stay away from the movie now and let Spiro lead us down the road,” the actor says.
Ambrosino says the Lyric is taking an “awesome artistic risk” in staging On The Town. First produced on Broadway in 1944 under the helm of George Abbott and
choreographer Jerome Robbins, the classic about three American sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City during wartime boasts a score by a pretty stellar trio: Leonard Bernstein wrote the music and Betty Comden and Adolph Green penned the book and lyrics. The songs that came out of On the Town endure to this day; among them “New York, New York,” “Lonely Town,” “Some Other Time,” and “I Can Cook, Too” (which became a signature song for Lea DeLaria after her showstopping version in the 1998 revival).
“It’s so infrequently done because it’s a difficult show to do,” says Ambrosino. “I was intimidated by the extensive dance audition. Dance auditions always give me agita. But it was such a warm, wonderful atmosphere in the room.” Boston’s acting community is more supportive than competitive, he says. “We all know each other. It’s like family.”
Ambrosino is a producer as well as an actor: he headed the performance company Aminus Ensemble at the Boston Center for the Arts for five years, from 2001 to 2006. A producing partner with U Rock Theatricals in New York City, Ambrosino is currently developing new musicals for Broadway. First on the list is a musical adaptation of Trevor, the landmark short film about a gay high schooler that won the 1995 Oscar for best short live action film.
Ambrosino lives with his partner in Boston — he’s not an actor; “I’m not that crazy,” Ambrosino says — when he isn’t working in New York. He’s so busy he barely had time to savor the news in early April that he’d been nominated for an Elliot Norton Award as best actor for Avenue Q, playing central character Princeton and closeted gay Republican Rod.
“I’m even more thrilled that the whole production was recognized,” says Ambrosino. “It was such a joy to do that show every night. I wish it could have gone on forever.”
The show is also special for Ambrosino, an Avon, Mass. native who graduated from Bates College, because it marked his Lyric Stage debut. For On the Town, he will reunite with his Avenue Q costar, Phil Tayler, who’ll play Chip (the Frank Sinatra role) and Amy Doherty, who co-stared with Ambrosino in Rent at the New Rep. Zachary Eisenstat rounds out the On the Town trio of sailors.
“There’s a feeling of home with the Lyric and Spiro,” says Ambrosino. “I feel good there and it’s exciting to get back.”
For more information, go to www.lyricstage.com.
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