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Wonderful Town: Milton Keynes Theatre
Not to be confused with the same composer’s On the Town, Leonard Bernstein’s musical Wonderful Town is surely a criminally neglected show. With razor-sharp, witty lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the story is of sisters Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, who arrive in New York fresh off a train from Columbus, Ohio. They find a dismal basement apartment to rent. It was formerly a brothel, and potential clients keep appearing.
It’s not long before Ruth and Eileen wish they’d never left home. “Why, oh why, oh why, oh why did I ever leave Ohio,” they sing wistfully. But Ruth is made of strong stuff. “We’re goin’ to take this town,” she cries. “Get up Ei-leen!”
The first instrumental number, Conquering New York, follows — the score is strongly jazz-orientated, and a definite forerunner of West Side Story, which followed four years later.
Now Wonderful Town has been given a fresh-as-a-daisy new production by the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. In the lead is Connie Fisher, who returns to the stage after major surgery to save her voice. Looking and sounding totally unlike Maria in The Sound of Music, the role that made her famous, Bernstein’s score fits Fisher’s new, deeper, vocal range to a T.
Her Ruth may look the more dowdy of the two sisters, but her delivery of one of the show’s best numbers, 100 Ways to Lose a Man, makes it very plain that Ruth is one heck of a sassy lady.
Fisher is ideally matched by Lucy van Gasse, playing blond and sparky sister Eileen. She sings beautifully, as does Michael Xavier, who supplies the romantic interest as magazine editor Bob. In support, there is a warm and hilarious cameo from Nic Greenshields as Wreck, a huge ex-football player — his big number Pass the Football provides inventive choreographer Andrew Wright with one of many eagerly seized opportunities.
But there are no weak links anywhere in the 24-strong cast, all of whom act, sing, and dance their socks off under the direction of Braham Murray, and with zappy support from conductor James (Schola Cantorum of Oxford) Burton and his band.
This is an ace revival of an ace show — and I guarantee that all Bernstein’s numbers will go round and round in your head for days afterwards.
Nor will you forget the wonderful sight of a line of bulky New York cops dancing an Irish jig, Riverdance style.
Until Saturday. Tickets 0844 871 7652 or online (atg.tickets.com/miltonkeynes).