Apologies for my silence. Things need to change and change they will.
Anyway last night I was lucky enough to go see Bernstein’s ‘Wonderful Town‘ at Birmingham Hippodrome. The show, currently touring across the UK starring the ‘nation’s Maria’ Connie Fisher, isn’t one that I was attracted to in any way, and if it wasn’t for an invite on a day I wasn’t busy I probably wouldn’t have gone to see. However, I quickly realised that my feelings towards this show were wonderfully wrong.
Wonderful Town is a traditional American musical – based in the 1950s we follow two sisters, Ruth (Fisher) and Eileen (Lucy van Gasse) who decide to come to New York from Ohio to seek their fortunes. It’s a clichéd plot where two people move to a bigger city and their innocence is battled but all comes good in the end – but clichéd or not, it works well in this show. There aren’t any complicated side plots, and the main plot you see coming a mile away, but it’s all good fun and the cast appear to be having a whale of a time on the stage.
Just thought of another title for this post – Wonderful by name, Wonderful by nature. The show just gives itself awesome names for positive blogs and reviews!!
The design (by Simon Higlett) of the show is classic 1950s America. Costumes are of the period, and the buildings depicted are classic skyscrapers from the era. The colour purple is the main colour for the throngs of people – from purple suits to shiny purple trousers of writers to a purple desk with purple paper and purple side way sky scrapers showing the depth of the stage. There is an early set piece in which the ensemble in their purple suits and orange gloves mould the first days in the city with tight cheography (by Andrew Wright) and direction which uses the set to its full potential.
The cast are brilliant – they all support each other and there isn’t one member letting the others down. Connie Fisher is brilliant as Ruth, the sensible sister to Lucy van Gasse’s care free Eileen. The two together have such a large range from Fisher’s lower tones to Gasse’s higher pitched singing and they work so well together, complimenting each other’s styles perfectly. The main male character Bob Baker is played by Michael Xavier who’s lowest tones almost cause the theatre to vibrate!! There are such wonderful voices in this show – possibly the best cast in terms of singers I’ve seen in a very long time. Other stand out performances include Nic Greenshields who plays the giant of a laundry expert Wreck Loomis and the artist landlord Mr Appopolous played by Sevan Stephan. The ensemble are fantastic – with the opening of Act 2 to go down in comedy legend with their portrayal of the New York police department…. (won’t spoil it for you – but the accents are all brilliant!) The only downside to the show is that the few slower songs/ballads don’t necessary suit the show and slow the action down, but it’s only a small point and with this cast they make those songs great!
Wonderful Town is a great show – and should be amongst the American classics but is overshadowed by the likes of Bernstein’s other musical hit West Side Story. It’s definitely worth a trip to the theatre – even if the weather is getting better outside!!
4.5 Big Apples out of 5
Tour stays in Birmingham until Saturday 26th May – Ticket information can be found at the Birmingham Hippodrome website. Then moves onto Southampton, Norwich, Newcastle, Woking, Plymouth and Cardiff ending on 7th July 2012. More tour information at the Wonderful Town website.