'Wonderful Town' at the King’s, Glasgow is full of jazzy energy

Wonderful stuff: screwball comedy about two sisters in New York is brimming with energy
Wonderful stuff: screwball comedy about two sisters in New York is brimming with energy

Leonard Bernstein’s 1953 musical comedy about two sisters from Ohio trying to find love and fortune in 1930’s New York, has tended to be overshadowed by his similarly titled On The Town.

Which is a shame. Because while it’s not as popular as that, or in the same league as West Side Story, it’s still fun, feel-good fare. One that retains its Big Apple, screwball zing and freshness here in Braham Murray’s production, which brings together the creative forces of Manchester’s Royal Exchange, the Halle Orchestra, and The Lowry.  

The show is based on 1940 play My Sister Eileen, itself drawn from a series of autobiographical sketches by Ruth McKenney. In it, plain Jane elder sister Ruth (Connie Fisher), has to look on from the side lines in Greenwich Village as every man they meet makes  a beeline for her prettier sister Eileen, including the dishy literary editor wannabe writer Ruth finds herself falling for.

 In between all the boy-meets-girl, boy-takes-ages-to-come-to-his-senses and see what a catch she is toing and froing, Bernstein and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green produce plenty of catchy numbers to keep the whole thing energetically zinging along.      

Talent show winner Fisher makes her comeback here as Ruth after a year out to heal her badly damaged voice that resulted in her being told she might never sing again.

And while the enforced layoff seems to have affected her vocal reach, and she’s gone from high soprano to alto, she more than makes up for it by displaying a heretofore unheralded gift for comedy. Nowhere more so than in her plain Jane lament  100 Easy Ways To Lose A Man and a knockout conga number with the Brazilian fleet.

The show is very much an ensemble piece with no obvious hit songs. But that only seems to give its froth some depth. It also prevents Murray’s quite excellent ensemble from being overshadowed by Fisher and they seize the chance with gusto as all of the Village’s bohemian energy is brought to the fore.   

Played out against Simon Higlett’s multi-coloured, tenement-strewn, melting pot set, Andrew Wright’s choreography pulsates with high-energy throughout the show. Lucy Van Gasse is cutely dizzy and engaging as prettier sister Eileen, one of the highlights of the show coming in a hilarious number where all the cops in the police station she finds herself locked up in, pay tribute to her with an “Oirish” chorus line number dedicated to her beauty and the old country.

And if van Gasse is no slouch in the singing stakes, Michael Xavier isn’t slow in showing off his musical theatre thoroughbred credentials either as dishy literary editor Bob. Elsewhere Nic Greenshields puts in a fine comic shift as the sisters pro-footbal, big lunk of a neighbour, Wreck, and there  are amusing cameos from Michael Matus as nightclub owner Speedy Valenti, and Sevan Stephan as boho artist Mr Appopolous.

The end result is a bright, breezy slice of the Big Apple guaranteed to send you home with a smile on your face.    

 Wonderful Town, King’s, Glasgow until Sat. Tel :0844 871 7648

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