REVIEW: A Wonderful time at Wonderful Town

I WASN’T sure what to expect from Wonderful Town, Leonard Bernstein’s revival musical created by The Royal Exchange Theatre, The Hallé Orchestra and the Lowry.

Thursday, 19th April 2012, 1:07 pm

With such impressive artistic force behind it, and fantastic Connie Fisher in the lead role, it seemed destined to be a hit but the question was, would it live up to the hype?

I went to The Lowry in Salford to see the show, where the cast were performing to a packed audience for the third week running, but from the endless energy they exuberated you’d think it was the opening night.

The Wonderful Town in question is New York, and the show follows two sisters, Ruth (Fisher) and Eileen (Lucy van Gasse) as they try to conquer the famous city as a writer and an actress.

The array of characters they encounter are both wonderful and weird, and although Fisher has the main comedy role, all the cast raise a few giggles in their scenes.

The storyline is not particularly fast–paced, but the whole show is very entertaining with impressive choreography, vibrant costumes and set, slick lines and sensational singing, all superbly executed.

The production benefits from a very clever set and imaginative use of the supporting cast. There is one scene where the ensemble are all dressed in purple with orange gloves, whizzing around the stage recreating a day in busy New York, with all the hustle and bustle of public transport and pavement pounding. The girls’ beds transform into an elevator, a bus and then back again to beds –it is all very slick and the choreography is amazing.

The show has a very long first act – an hour and a half – so make sure you go to the loo before it starts and have adequate refreshments with you to see you through it!

As Wonderful Town has not been performed in England since the 80s, none of the songs were well–known to the audience, but there were a few reprises so by the end of the second act the songs felt familiar anyway.

Fisher’s solo number ‘100 Ways to Lose a Man’ was funny and brilliantly done, and her voice really is fantastic in her first major alto-part since the serious vocal surgery on holes in her vocal chords.

It is a lovely contrast to van Gasse’s stunning soprano, and the singing sisters do some gorgeous duets.

My favourite numbers were the Conga! and My Darlin’ Eileen, both performed by the ensemble. The Conga! features a group of rowdy Brazilian Cadets, who know only three words in English; ‘American’, ‘Dance’ and ‘Conga’. The ensuing chaos which Ruth is swept up in is hilarious and it picks up the pace of the whole show.

‘My Darlin’ Eileen’ by the Irish ‘cops’ is really funny too – this time Eileen (van Gasse) is the recipient of the boisterous boys’ attention and it has the whole audience chuckling.

I would have liked to have seen a little more of the love triangle between Bob Baker (Michael Xavier), Ruth and Eileen, but perhaps it is to the show’s advantage that it doesn’t get too soppy, as it is a comedy after all.

Wonderful Town does deserve the hype - the music is magnificent, there are lots of laughs and you will be thoroughly entertained.

At the Milton Keynes Theatre from April 24 - 28, for tickets call 0844 871 7652 or visit http://www.atgtickets.com/venue/Milton-Keynes-Theatre/5/