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Wonderful Town review at Lowry Salford

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After his success with On The Town, composer Leonard Bernstein imagined that he would probably never write another musical comedy. Yet when writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green suggested they collaborate again on a new show about two sisters trying to make it in New York, Bernstein not only agreed but completed the score within a matter of weeks. Wonderful Town may not have the familiarity of their much-loved On The Town but the original production garnered five Tony Awards and ran for a respectable 559 performances on Broadway.

This production, the result of a partnership between The Royal Exchange, The Lowry and the Halle Orchestra pays full homage to Bernstein’s vivacious score with Sir Mark Elder at the helm as musical director. Braham Murray’s canny direction enhances the spirit of the piece, complemented by Andrew Wright’s dynamic choreography. Simon Higlett’s simple and uncluttered set design mixes bold statements and even bolder colours with a clever and amusing use of perspective and together this team encapsulates the sheer energy of New York City onto a single stage.

Braham’s leading ladies serve him particularly well with the wonderful Lucy van Gasse as aspiring actress Eileen, and Connie Fisher something of a revelation as her sister Ruth.

Fisher, who rocketed to fame through Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of A Sound Of Music here establishes star quality in a very different role. Blessed with the funniest lines in the show, she proves herself an accomplished and agile comedian and a generous performer. Van Gasse as Eileen may have the gentlemen eating out of her hand with her rendition of the charming A Little Bit In Love but Fisher evidently relishes the vocal challenges of 100 Easy Ways To Lose A Man as well as leading a chorus of Brazilian sailors in the Conga. The success of this musical lives or dies on the relationship between Ruth and Eileen, and Fisher and Van Gasse make a winning combination.

Michael Xavier adds to his leading-man status in musicals with the role of associate editor Bob Baker, the city cynic who falls for Ruth. A strong supporting cast includes Tiffany Graves and a towering Nic Greenshields as next door neighbours Helen and Wreck, while Michael Matus is hilarious, though somewhat wasted, as the night-club owner Speedy Valenti.

The ensemble numbers are thoughtfully crafted, such as the exquisitely choreographed Conquering New York, illustrated in a superb montage of physical theatre and dance. On the surface, the slickly choreographed routine of the song Swing! is an affectionate pastiche of the emerging beatnik generation but observed here it foreshadows the huge changes ahead in musical theatre, particularly with Bernstein’s later ground-breaking work on West Side Story.

Production Information

Lowry, Salford, April 4-21, then touring until July 7

Author
Leonard Bernstein (music), Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov (book), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics)
Director
Braham Murray
Musical Director
Sir Mark Elder
Producer
The Royal Exchange Theatre, The Halle Orchestra and The Lowry in association with Lee Menzies and Kenneth Wax for Wonderful Town UK Ltd and Flora Suk-Hwa Yoon
Cast
Connie Fisher, Michael Xavier, Lucy van Gasse, Tiffany Graves, Nic Greenshields, Michael Matus, Haydn Oakley and Joseph Alessi
Running time
2hrs 35mins
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