Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
The Lake Worth Playhouse presents the nostalgic musical Wonderful Town. Wonderful Town originally opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on February 25, 1953, starring Rosalind Russell and Edie Adams. It ran for 559 performances, and went on to receive five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. In 1958 it was broadcast live as a television special on CBS, again starring Rosalind Russell. The 2003 revived starring Donna Murphy was nominated for five Tony Awards, winning one for Best Choreography.
The music for Wonderful Town was written by Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story, Candide and On the Town), with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Good News, The Band Wagon, Singin' In The Rain, and Peter Pan) The book for Wonderful Town is an adaptation of the play My Sister Eileen by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov, which is based on a collection of short stories by Ruth McKenney. My Sister Eileen has been filmed twice: in 1942 with Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair, and in 1955 with Betty Garrett and Janet Leigh.
Set in 1935, Wonderful Town is the tale of two sisters, Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, who move from Columbus, Ohio to New York City in search of love and fortune. Ruth seeks to find success as a writer, and Eileen fame on the stage. Older sister Ruth is perhaps too smart with men for her own good. Her dry wit and matter-of-fact manner leave her frustratingly dateless. She sings of her ease in scaring away men in the song "One Hundred Easy Ways." Her beautiful and sweet sister Eileen seems effortlessly surrounded by the attentions of the opposite sex. She is somewhat easily smitten as she demonstrates in the song "Little Bit in Love."
The two women land in a basement apartment in Greenwich Village, where they are visited by men looking for the former tenant who was a lady of the evening. A womanizing reporter, Chick Clark, and a bumbling drugstore manager, Frank Lippencott, compete for Eileen's attentions. They are befriended by their neighbors: Wreck, an out of work football player; and his live-in girlfriend, Helen. Their eccentric Greek landlord and sometime painter, Appopolous, pops in and out unannounced. Ruth and Eileen both encounter frustration as they try to jump start their careers. Longing for security, they wonder why they left home in the song "Ohio."
After some false starts, Ruth finds her chance for success as a writer. Along the way she also finds a surprising chance for romance with a journalist named Robert Baker. The story is not so much about a happy ending as it is about the sentimental journey of these two young women amidst the throng of entertainingly colorful and Bohemian characters that populated Greenwich Village in the 1930s.
Wonderful Town is filled with a wide range of musical styles including an energetic "Conga," a jazzy "Wrong Note Rag," the Irish ballad "Eileen," a comedic "One Hundred Easy Ways" and the tender love song "A Quiet Girl." Despite its many Tony Awards, the show's songs are largely obscure and the plot somewhat plodding.
The choreography for the Lake Worth Playhouse is very well done by Denny Schaber, and well performed by the cast. The orchestra, conducted by Toni Stamos, is quite good as well. It is a pleasure to hear a good-sized live orchestra tackle this show so nicely. Speaking of hearing, however, the show was troubled with microphone issues at the performance I attended. The microphone for the actor playing Chick Clark was audible less than 20% of the show.
Gina Nespoli as Ruth does a truly fine job in a tough role. Kendra Adams as Eileen is lovely, and has the right look and sound for the role. Unfortunately, she sometimes lets her vibrato get carried away, and ends up singing sharp. Shane Blanford lends a strong comedic flair to his role as Frank Lippencott. Michael DeGrotta cuts a fine figure as Robert Baker, and sings well, though is lacking in passion. Jamie Andrepont regrettably cannot decide on a consistent accent as either Speedy Valenti or as a policeman, and he breaks the fourth wall by delivering lines and takes directly to the audience. But the ensemble as a whole is solid, with good staging, choreography and presence throughout the production.
Wonderful Town appears at the Lake Worth Playhouse through April 29, 2007. The theatre is located at 713 Lake Ave. in Lake Worth, FL. The Lake Worth Playhouse is a Resident Community Playhouse celebrating it's 54th season. For more information about the theatre and its programs, you may contact them by phone at 561-586-6410 or on line at www.lakeworthplayhouse.org.