Three-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, already scheduled to appear as part of the now annual Divas at the Donmar summer cabaret season at the Donmar Warehouse (from August 23-28, following Patti LuPone who opens the season from August 9-21), has now been announced to lead the cast of a BBC Prom performance of Bernstein, Comden and Green's classic Broadway musical, Wonderful Town.
The annual BBC Proms season, which runs at London's Royal Albert Hall from July 16 to September 11, is a 7-days-a-week celebration of classical music, with all concerts broadcast live by BBC Radio Three. They are called proms because a substantial proportion of the audience 'promenade' - either standing or sitting on the floor of the main arena area of the auditorium, or in the gallery above the seating areas. The performances are noted for their informality, affordability (prom places, in particular, are extremely cheap) and the youthful, knowledgeable audiences they accordingly attract. The prom that includes Wonderful Town is Number 31 in this year's series, and takes place on Tuesday August 10. Sir Simon Rattle will conduct the performance, which will be prefaced by pieces by Charles Ives and Conlon Nancarrow, under the baton of Thomas Ades.
McDonald, who was most recently seen on Broadway in the original cast of Ahrens, Flaherty and McNally's Ragtime, in which she played the role of Sarah, won a Tony performance for that role; she has also won Tony Awards for her performances in Carousel (at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre) and Terrence McNally's MasterClass. In the fall, she is due to return to Lincoln Center to play the title role of Marie Christine in John LaChiusa's latest musical. McDonald has already performed the role of Eileen in Wonderful Town on a recording (for Angel) that was also conducted by Rattle.
Joining McDonald is fellow American showtune soprano Kim Criswell. Recently the featured artist of the annual Covent Garden Festival, Criswell was among the original Broadway cast of Tommy Tune's production of Nine and John Dexter's production of The Threepenny Opera with Sting, but has been a longtime London resident since she first debuted here in the title role of a revival of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun at the Prince of Wales Theatre. More recently, she was seen on stage in The Slow Drag, an original play with music, at the Whitehall (the CD cast recording of which is now available on TER in the UK and JAY in the US).
The cast for Wonderful Town also includes American baritones Thomas Hampson and Brent Barrett, the latter having appeared in London previously among an all-American cast in Tommy Tune's production of Grand Hotel.
Wonderful Town originally produced at Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre in 1953 (where it ran for 559 performances after opening on February 25 of that year), is widely regarded as the successor to Bernstein, Comden and Green's first collaboration, 1944's On the Town. In fact, the songwriters only became involved five weeks before rehearsals began when the original authors, Leroy Anderson and Arnold Horwitt, departed after a disagreement with librettists Joseph Fields (brother of Herbert and Dorothy) and Jerome Chodorov. The book is based on a series of autobiographical short stories by Ruth McKinney that had originally appeared in the New Yorker, following the adventures of Ruth and her sister Eileen as they arrive in Greenwich Village from Ohio to pursue their dreams of fame and fortune. In the original production, Ruth was played by Rosalind Russell in her only major musical-comedy role; Eileen was played by Edie Adams, and the cast also included the late Joe Layton, later to achieve fame as a Broadway director/choreographer of such shows as No Strings (1962), George M! (1968) and Barnum (1980).
The show is yet to receive a major Broadway revival (if any producers out there are listening, how about Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway for Ruth and Eileen, anyone?), but in 1986 a London production (at the West End's Queens Theatre) featured Maureen Lipman as Ruth and Emily Morgan (best known for playing Mary in the film The French Lieutenant's Woman) as Eileen. Lipman is currently to be seen as Aunt Eller in the National Theatre's production of Oklahoma!, which is due to end its West End run at the Lyceum Theatre on June 26.
The Last Night of the Proms, the final concert in the series that has become an annually televised British institution, will feature actor Jeremy Irons and bass Willard White, on Saturday September 11. Tickets are available by ballot only. Over 1000 standing tickets are available at each Proms concert at very low prices as well, half of which are only sold one hour before the start of each concert. These cannot be booked in advance, even if all seats have been sold, so if you're determined enough you will always be able to get in to hear a concert.
- Mark Shenton, Whatsonstage.com