Wonderful Town is not your average touring musical, but a lovingly prepared collaboration between Manchester’s Lowry and Royal Exchange theatres and the Halle orchestra. The care and attention put into its creation is evident, both in its meticulous direction Braham Murray and choreography Andrew Wright, and in the degree of investment with which every cast member performs.
The bohemian vibrancy of 1930s Greenwich Village, where the story unfolds, is well captured by Simon Higlett’s versatile designs. Meanwhile, Leonard Bernstein’s sophisticated score blends touching ballads with cooler swing and jazz numbers reminiscent of West Side Story. Although the Halle has been unable to stay with the production, its touring orchestra is still a cut above the rest.
Connie Fisher’s Ruth, a small town girl, come to New York to make it as a writer, is likeable and engaging. In one memorable comic number, she sings of “100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man” yet, refreshingly, gains one without submitting to his initial ideal of “A Quiet Girl”. Michael Xavier plays her love interest with charm and assurance, and Lucy van Gasse’s precocious but captivating Eileen justifies the attention she elicits from every man in town. A particularly joyous sequence occurs when Eileen, having been mistakenly arrested, finds herself in the care of a chorus of starry-eyed Irish policemen, who sing their devotion in perfect close part harmonies.
A large committed ensemble deliver the chorus numbers with skill and gusto, and it is a credit to them, and to Murray and Wright, that their performances display both their tight collectivity and their distinct individual talents.