An announcement prior to the performance suggested that patrons turn off cell phones and remove their tap shoes. Despite the warning it was difficult to keep one’s feet still. “On Broadway!,” subtitled “A Glittering Salute to the American Musical” and held at the New York City Center, was prefaced with a rush of film clips that recalled the theatrical legacy of such dazzling choreographers as Agnes de Mille, Bob Fosse, Gower Champion, Jerome Robbins and Michael Bennett, with Jerry Orbach in a filmed benedictory summing up the preceding montage “with the most glorious words in the English language — musical comedy!”
The celebration offered an expansive display of choreographic ideas, artfully staged by Ann Marie DeAngelo with a simple and direct thrust. In their best Mickey and Judy form, the agile hoofer Noah Racey and the always vibrant Karen Ziemba re-created a stylish Gershwin turn from “Crazy for You” that was punctuated with romantic whimsy.
De Mille, who transformed the art of dance on Broadway, was remembered with an excerpt from the “Oklahoma!” dream ballet performed by members of the New York Theater Ballet. The company displayed the inimitable de Mille touch with exquisite symmetry of motion, flawless execution and, above all, an airy sense of grace in motion.
“Less is more” was the Fosse credo, and the lithe and lively Jane Krakowski coupled with Cheyenne Jackson to prove the point in a re-creation of “Two Lost Souls” from “Damn Yankees.”
The sizzling “Steam Heat” from “The Pajama Game” followed, further accenting the new theatrical form Fosse had brought to the stage that was disarmingly simple, amusingly direct and subtly sensual.
Randy Skinner adapted the Champion choreography and fronted a tapping ensemble for the most iconic backstage musical of all time, “42nd Street.” Precision and style marked the evening at its best, heightened by a pas de deux from “Le Corsaire” exquisitely danced by a dazzling Herman Cornejo and a beauteous Xiomara Reyes. Mikhail Baryshnikov presented legendary dancer Sono Osato with an award for contribution to the world of dance.
A stunning, long-stemmed Brooke Shields presented Tommy Tune with the Rolex Dance Award and thanked him for giving her a career in Broadway musical theater. Tune, celebrating his 50th year in show business, offered a brief snappy tap to ” ‘S Wonderful” and encored his Tony-winning turn from “Seesaw” with “It’s Not Where You Start (It’s Where You Finish).” He gathered Shields and host Angela Lansbury plus the entire cast for the finale, and he clearly finished on top.