Wonderful Town – Ye Olde Rose and Crown Pub Theatre
Until 30th October
We’re in New York, in 1935. In Greenwich Village, there lives an eclectic mix of Italian, Greek, Irish, you name it – and everyone is hanging on to their own little dream. Enter Ruth and Eileen, two sisters from Ohio who have come to this Wonderful Town to make their mark on the big city.
The premise oozes with the possibility of clichés. But never fear, you are in safe hands with Leonard Bernstein. The off-beat rhythms and jarring melodies perfectly capture the disorientating melée that you get in bustling cities. The dialogue feels fresh and not at all dated, giving the show a resonance – the migrant or transient experience of the millions that have moved to big cities. Add to that the jerky and stylised movements from Ian Pyle, choreographer, and you get a refreshing and somewhat modern insight into the terrifying experience of landing in a big city.
Eileen is a looker. Seeking fame as an actress, she’s pursued by a troupe of men, meaning difficult situations magically mend themselves under her sweet gaze. Ruth, an aspiring writer, has to use her wit, intelligence and talent to navigate the difficult paths ahead. Following the girls through their quest, we meet a variety of bizarre and endearing characters, and come to love the strange and slightly smutty apartment they find themselves in, surrounded by an area of New York famed for its artists. There are a few moments of cheesy romance, but I think that’s allowed.
One of my favourite numbers was One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man – Ruth is blazing the trail as a bolshy female who refuses to play the part of helpless victim in order to get male interest, even if it does mean she winds up at home on her own on a Friday night. My kind of heroine. And Lizzie Wofford is fantastic. A deftly played character role, every inch of her personified the defiant yet self-conscious Ruth, with incredibly versatile vocals to go with it. Francesca Benton-Stace manages to make Eileen a sweet and endearing character, with an impressive soprano teetering over the top of the score, providing a lilting and not piercing counterpoint to the rest of the ensemble.
Unfortunately, Aneurin Pascoe was not quite up to the job of playing opposite these two female leads. At times he hurried over his dialogue, and his vocal range and strength couldn’t quite keep up with the ladies. The rest of the ensemble provided humour, slick movement and strong vocal support to the lead roles. Special mention must go to Kitty Whitelaw for her fluid grace and style, and to Joe Goldie, who never failed to catch the eye in the myriad roles he morphed into throughout the show.
Not your average musical, Wonderful Town is a quirky, effervescent show, which will leave you tapping your feet and thanking your stars you live in a weird and wonderful city like London.