Wonderful Town is a Tony award winning musical written in 1953, based upon the play My Sister Eileen by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov. Bursting with a joyous Leonard Bernstein score, the musical includes classics such as ‘A Little Bit in Love’, ‘One Hundred Easy Ways to Loose a Man’ and ‘Ohio’. All Star Productions have brought it back to us in a big way, in a tiny little corner of Walthamstow. It tells the loving tale of sisters Eileen (Francesca Benton-Stace) and Ruth (Lizzie Wofford), who move to 1930s New York to get out of their stifling home town. A classic comedy, the two take us through a rip-roaring portrait of the big apple, we see them fight their way to a happier place and charm many a man along the way. Artist Appopolus (Nicholas Chiappetta) rents them a room, neighbouring couple Helen (Francesca Pim) and Wreck the football player (Simon Burr) steal a painting from their room, while Speedy Valentin (Jon R Harrison) gives Ruth a job at his nightclub. Editor Bob Baker (Aneurin Pascoe) tries to give Ruth some advice on her writing, while Chick Clark (Ashley Holeman) and stumblebum Frank (Hugo Joss Catton) are competing for Eileen’s affections. After being arrested, Eileen falls for the chief of police Lonigan (Jack Keane) and lands an audition to play at Valentin’s club. She even manages to convince Bob that he really is in love with Ruth, who fortunately also lands job, writing with Chick Clark.
Bernstein’s compositions shine through as always, while the book is shimmering in good-hearted comedy. Numbers such as ‘Swing’ are reminiscent of ‘Cool’ in West Side Story. Tying in with the beautiful choreography by Ian Pyle, the cast use scatting and accappella soundscapes to revive this musical to its former glory. At times it’s a wonder how they utilise the space; the dancing is full-out, energetic and lots of fun. Particularly ‘My Darlin’ Eileen’ and ‘Conga’ are masses of fun for the audience to watch, and I imagine to be part of on stage! Ben Hathaways’ design is simple, props and the walls are plastered with newspaper. It adds a business to the stage, but allows the space to be used fully with as little time as possible taken for scene changes. Specifically in the scenes where they play out Ruth’s stories, this is really effective on their 2D props.
Tim McArthur’s direction is extremely timely, he’s added cartoonish movements to emphasise the slick comedy. The energy bouncing off the cast members is infectious, while the comedic timing is impeccable.
Wofford is truly a leading lady, with a glint of Judy Garland she manages to glide through the comedy and push the piece in an entirely charming direction. As she sings ‘One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose A Man,’ she commands the stage, she is a confident, controlled and considered actress. Benton-Stace is stunning in her soprano voice, her innocence allows her ditsy Eileen to become loveable. As Helen, Pim brings a welcome secondary storyline to life. She and Burr make quite the duo. Mention also has to go to Catton who breaks our hearts as Frank, one of the stronger male character performances.
Overall a good clean fun musical, which is classically written and well executed. It’s gorgeously reminiscent of the golden generation of musical theatre, showcased with valour in this fringe production.
Wonderful Town is playing Ye Olde Rose and Crown until 30October. For more information and tickets, see Ye Old Rose and Crown Theatre website.