Friday, 27 April 2012

Theatre Review: 27 April

Written by Georgina Brown


Music to my ears

As Connie Fisher returns to the stage, our reviewer is mesmerised by a musical hit packed with show-stopping numbers...


georgina-brown 2805You've probably never seen Bernstein's Wonderful Town and possibly can't whistle a tune from it. 'Why oh why oh who-oh', to borrow a line from one of its best numbers: the deliciously wistful Ohio. Maybe because it turned up hot on the heels of Bernstein's On The Town, only to be eclipsed by his dazzling West Side Story, it hasn't been staged in the UK for nearly three decades. But all the stops have been pulled out for this revival: the 65-strong Hallé Orchestra, no less, conducted by Sir Mark Elder, is making Bernstein's score swing as it has never swung before. At least until May, when it goes on the road with just a 17-piece band. Admittedly, that won't give you the same stupendous sound, but it will doubtless capture the spirit of the score, fi lled with honking horns echoing New York streets embracing Irish folk songs to a Latin-American conga and some seriously smoky jazz.

And you'll still get Connie Fisher, back on stage for the fi rst time since she lost her voice and required surgery after The Sound Of Music. She's one of two sassy sisters from the sticks (Ohio) who arrive in Greenwich Village with just a suitcase fi lled with dreams... and some talent (Fisher's Ruth is a wannabe writer; her sister, Eileen, hopes to go on the stage) and buckets of determination.

Their apartment is more of a cellar and explosions from the subway construction keep them awake. Ruth's stories are consistently rejected, which makes an already prickly woman even more barbed. Ruth is one of nature's ball-breakers, though she does at least have some fun sending herself up in the show-stopping One Hundred Easy Ways.

Drop-dead gorgeous Eileen is a naturalborn heart-breaker. Men fall for her left, right and centre, and she has no problem returning the compliment – a tendency wittily caught in her funny, romantic A Little Bit In Love. When she's thrown in jail, half a dozen tough, New York cops become her personal staff. One of them, from Dublin, decides that a girl named Eileen must come from Killarney. She can even persuade Robert Baker (tall, dark and dishy Michael Xavier) that he's not in love with her but with Ruth, which means everyone gets what they want in the end.

Connie Fisher's Ruth is as gruff as Lucy van Gasse's Eileen is creamy. Designer Simon Higlett brings New York to vibrant life; the choreography kicks and Braham Murray's staging is sensational. Wonderful indeed.

Wonderful Town is on tour until 7 July. 0844-871 2118, www.wonderfultown.co.uk

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