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Posts Tagged ‘Connie Fisher’

This appears to be the first London production of this Bernstein / Comden & Green musical comedy for thirty years. I think the last one was the the 1986 revival, which featured Maureen Lipman. There was a touring production with Connie Fisher and the Halle Orchestra no less, but the nearest that got to London was Woking, where I went to see it. I’m a bit surprised as it’s really a lot of fun.

Ruth & Eileen are sisters who arrive in Greenwich Village from Ohio intent on making their names, Ruth as a writer and Eileen as a performer. They get a poky, noisy apartment formerly occupied by a prostitute, and soon their circle includes neighbours Helen & Wreck, drugstore manager Frank, their landlord and sometime artist Appopolous, night club owner Valentin, editor Baker, newspaperman Chick and most of the local police, all Irish and all besotted with Eileen, as are Frank, Baker and Chick. They get into scrapes trying to get work, notably with most of the Brazilian navy, but eventually end up with a press card and a cabaret job respectively.

In this production they really play it for laughs, with some pretty broad performances, but it works as it’s not at the expense of the musical standards, which are as high as we’ve come to expect in this fringe venue. MD Aaron Clingham is flying solo at the piano this time, and that works too. There’s some cracking musical staging and choreography from director Tim McArthur and choreographer Ian Pyle, who throw in some Irish dancing by the policemen with Eileen, and some great ensemble work in Christopher Street and The Wrong Note Rag. Can there be another show with a conga in it? and here one which exits the auditorium at the interval, picking up audience members along the way.

Lizzie Wofford (who I first saw six years ago as a brilliant Mrs Lovett in the NYMT’s Sweeney Todd at the Village Underground) and Francesca Benton-Stace are both terrific as Ruth and Eileen respectively, and they have a fine young, enthusiastic, energetic supporting cast (casting by Benjamin Newsome again).

I’ve come to very much enjoy my trips to Walthamstow, and this is no exception. It’s over now, but look out for their next show.

 

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Still unsure that this rare Bernstein revival will find its way into the West End, off I went to Woking to be sure not to miss it. Yet another very good decision!

I don’t think there’s been a production here since 1986, when Maureen took the role now taken by Connie Fisher. It does require a cast of 24 and a decent sized orchestra , but that isn’t a good enough reason for a 25-year hiatus. This touring version of Wonderful Town started out as a joint venture between two Manchester institutions, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Halle Orchestra.

Bernstein had such range, writing symphonies, an operetta, chamber operas, ballets, film scores, choral works, song cycles, chamber pieces and a mass for 200 performers (getting a rare outing at the Proms this year) as well as his musicals, to which he brought a classical sensibility and blended it with jazz, swing, ragtime and ‘pop’. 

Wonderful Town (NYC, of course) tells a simple story of  Ohio sisters Ruth and Eileen coming to New York City – the former trying to make her name as a writer and the latter in showbiz – and their adventures as they meet exploitive landlord Mr Appopolous (before he became the owner of the Walford launderette, obviously), neighbour Helen & her giant baseball player boyfriend Wreck, nerdy Walgreen manager Frank, seedy newspaper owner Chick, sleazy club owner Speedy, editor and love interest Bob, Brazilian sailors and a lot of  policemen, all Irish! Having such a diverse range of characters facilitates a whole load of musical comedy set pieces on streets, at the port and in apartments, clubs and police stations. Comden & Green’s lyrics are witty and the score is even better than I remembered.

Simon Higlett’s simple uncluttered but colourful design enables this to flow seamlessly. Braham Murray, not particularly known for musicals, and choreographer Andrew Wright make a great job of the staging and dancing, which is fresh and uplifting. There are so many highlights, from the opening street scene (very Guys & Dolls) through a port-side conga, Irish dancing in the police station (with a nod to Riverdance) and a modern ballet to some excellent club numbers. We no longer have the Halle in the pit, but the 17-piece band is a cut above, somewhat refreshingly without a synthesiser in sight.

It would be hard to imagine a better cast show. Every single role is brilliantly played. I was one of those who thought Connie Fisher was a major new talent and its great to report that she’s put her vocal troubles behind her, dropped an octave or two, turned into a redhead and revealed a natural talent for comedy to add to her natural charm and vocal prowess. Lucy van Gasse is just as good as her more dipsy blonde sister and Michael Xavier again shows us how good he is at these romantic lead roles. There’s a handful of lovely performances in smaller roles – Tiffany Graves and Nic Greenshields are great as the neighbours and Sevan Stephan,  Joseph Alessi and Michael Matus are a fine comic trio as landlord / artist, newspaper baron and club owner respectively.

This really ought to come into town and if it does, I’ll be back. A real treat.

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