2003 Revival Logo
|Book||Joseph A. Fields
|Basis||Joseph A. Fields's and Jerome Chodorov's play My Sister Eileen|
1958 U.S. Television
1986 West End
2003 Broadway revival
2006 Non-Equity U.S. Tour
|Awards||Tony Award for Best Musical|
Wonderful Town is a musical with a book written by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Leonard Bernstein. It is based on Fields and Chodorov's 1940 play My Sister Eileen, which is itself based on the collection of short stories by Ruth McKenney of the same name.
Premiering on Broadway in 1953, Wonderful Town won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and spawned a 1986 West End production and 2003 Broadway revival. It is a lighter piece than Bernstein's later works, West Side Story and Candide. However, none of the songs have become popular hits.
The musical follows the story of sisters Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, who travel to New York City from Columbus, Ohio, in search of love and fortune. My Sister Eileen, the collection of short stories on which the play and musical are based, recounts Ruth's memories of growing up with her sister. The collection was published as a hardcover book in 1938, three years after the events depicted in the musical. Only the final two stories in the book have anything to do with the plot of Wonderful Town, and they are heavily modified for the musical. The stories also served as the basis of two films and a television series.
Wonderful Town debuted on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on February 25, 1953 and ran for 559 performances, closing on July 3, 1954 and starred Rosalind Russell and Edie Adams. It was directed by George Abbott, choreographed by Donald Saddler and produced by Robert Fryer.
A London Production opened Feb 25th, 1955 at The Prince's Theatre, where it ran for 207 performances. The production starred Pat Kirkwood as Ruth, Shani Wallace as Eileen, and Sid James as Wrack. It was produced by Jack Hylton, and Cyril Ornadel served as music director.
The show was broadcast live as a television special on CBS in 1958, again starring Rosalind Russell as Ruth Sherwood and Jackie McKeever as Eileen Sherwood.
New York City Center productions have starred Nancy Walker (1958), Kaye Ballard (1963) and Elaine Stritch (1966). Stock productions gave Eve Arden and Nanette Fabray, among others, the opportunity to play Ruth. Lauren Bacall starred in a 1978 tour.
The City Center Encores! staged concert was presented in May 2000, starring Donna Murphy and Laura Benanti and directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. It received "some of the best reviews the in-concert series has seen in some time, with particular praise being doled out for star Donna Murphy." A revival opened on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on November 23, 2003 and closed on January 30, 2005, after 497 performances. With direction and choreography by Kathleen Marshall, it starred Donna Murphy, and later Brooke Shields.
A non-Equity national tour was mounted by Music Theatre Associates in 2006 and 2007, starring Deborah Lynn as Ruth and Allison Berry as Eileen.
- Act I
When the tourists have departed, the witty Ruth Sherwood arrives in Greenwich Village with her beautiful younger sister, Eileen. The two have just arrived from Columbus, determined to forge a life in the big city as a writer (Ruth) and an actress (Eileen). Soon they are living in a basement apartment, recently vacated by Violet, loaned by the "loveable" landlord, Mr. Appopolous. Their apartment building is shaken frequently by dynamite from the construction of a subway underneath them as well as Violet's returning customers. The sisters are soon stricken with homesickness for "Ohio".
The next morning, Ruth and Eileen set out to try their hand at "Conquering New York", only to find defeat and humiliation. Eileen, at least, has gotten food from a food samples man, as well as Mr. Valenti, but has also met Frank Lippencott, a local Walgreens manager who has developed a crush on her. Ruth, however, is left to wonder at her sister's magnetic appeal and her own unique romantic abilities; a talent for repelling men so successful that she could write a book entitled "One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man".
Eventually, Ruth talks her way into the offices of a short story magazine, where she meets Bob Baker. Bob likes Ruth, but advises her that she has little chance of success, and tells her flat out "What A Waste" of money and time it was to come to New York, because he along with many others have done the same thing. Undaunted, Ruth leaves three stories with Bob in the hope that he will read them.
Meanwhile, Eileen has been eating all of her lunches free at Walgreens, and finds herself "A Little Bit In Love" with Frank, and invites him over to dinner so Ruth can have free lunches when she goes to Walgreens too. Bob arrives at the apartment, looking for Ruth, and Eileen invites him over for dinner as well. The phone rings, and it is Chick Clark, a newspaper editor, whom Eileen met in an elevator, wanting to see Eileen.
The upstairs neighbors, Wreck, an out-of-season American football player, and his live-in lover, Helen, ask the girls to hide Wreck while Helen's mother, Mrs. Ella Wade is in town, because Mrs. Wade does not yet know about Wreck. Eileen happily agrees to stow him in their apartment, much to Ruth's hesitation. Wreck describes his lucky history as a student at Trenton Tech, who got by very well only because of his ability to "Pass The Football".
Eileen has invited Frank Lippencott, Bob Baker, and Chick Clark, a slimy newspaper scribe whom she has met with the object of furthering Ruth's career, over for potluck supper. Unaware of each other's feelings, both girls find themselves attracted to Bob. Soon, all five of them are seated around the cramped apartment trying to fill the awkward silence in "Conversation Piece". Meanwhile, Helen deals with her overbearing and exaggerated mother.
Ruth and Bob talk over the quality of her stories, and he advises her to write about what she knows rather than flights of fancy. Both say several wrong things, and he finally tells her off. He soon regrets it as Ruth rushes inside in tears, and Bob is left to sing of his inability to find "A Quiet Girl" to love.
While all this is happening, anxious to be alone with Eileen, Chick Clark creates a bogus assignment for Ruth. He sends her off to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to interview a group of Brazilian navy cadets. She quickly realizes that their sole interest is to learn and dance the "Conga". The sailors follow Ruth home, where the girls soon find themselves in chaotic confusion, as all the citizens of Christopher Street join the conga line in a finale. Ruth runs into Bob and gives him a piece of her mind, while Eileen is hauled off to jail for causing the riot.
- Act II
In the local jail Eileen finds herself practically running the place, with Officer Lonigan and his brigade of doting Irish police officers at her beck and call. Given her name, they are convinced that she is Irish, and they serenade her with "My Darlin' Eileen", and are not the least discouraged and continue to sing when she says she is, in fact, not Irish. Ruth comes to assure her that she will bail her out as soon as she collects the money from her new job as a promoter for the Village Vortex, a local nightclub. At the club, Ruth "digs the rhythm" of "Swing". Meanwhile, Wreck is awkwardly masquerading as a wealthy art collector to meet Helen's mother's approval, and Chick is frantically calling Eileen, trying to make things right.
Thanks to Bob, Eileen is soon released from jail, and the sisters learn that Appopolous has been so scandalized by a missing picture that he painted (that was actually stolen and sold for $2 by Helen and Wreck for Wreck to stay at the Y) and Eileen's arrest, that he has threatened to evict them. Eileen discovers that Ruth is also attracted to Bob Baker, and the two of them wish, for a moment, that they had never left home, reprising "Ohio". Eileen is then confronted by the rhythmical Speedy Valenti, owner of the Village Vortex (the night club), who gives her her New York debut as a singer because her fame has reached the front page of the news. Appopolous immediately changes his tune now that one of his tenants has a paying job, and extends their lease.
Eileen soon learns that Bob Baker has quit his job as a result of a disagreement with his boss about Ruth's story on the Brazilian sailors. Eileen is thrilled that Bob quit his job and assures the unbelieving Bob that "It's Love" that he feels for Ruth. Bob, faced with the facts, hesitantly realizes the truth: it is love.
The mood at the Vortex turns jazzy with the "Ballet At The Village Vortex". Eileen finds herself with a case of stage fright and she convinces Ruth to join her on stage to sing the "Wrong Note Rag". Chick arrives to make amends and presents Ruth with a press pass: his boss has read her story about the Brazilian sailors and loved it, and given Ruth a job to take on the following Monday. The Vortex is alive with singing and dancing, and Bob decides it's the perfect moment to let Ruth know how he feels. The curtain closes as Eileen and the guests at the club sing "It's Love" along with everyone in a finale in celebration of Ruth and Bob's new found affection.
- *"Conquering New York" and "Conversation Piece" both quote Bernstein's piece for solo clarinet and jazz ensemble, "Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs", premiered by Benny Goodman in 1955.
Though there have been only two major Broadway productions of Wonderful Town, many recordings of the music have been made over the years.
- 1953: The Original Broadway Cast with Rosalind Russell as Ruth. A 2001 CD re-issue also contained selections from On the Town, another Bernstein musical.
- 1958: The CBS TV Movie Cast with Rosalind Russell as Ruth.
- 1986: The Original London Cast with Maureen Lipman as Ruth.
- 1998: A Studio Cast recording with Karen Mason as Ruth. The first complete recording of the score.
- 1999: A Studio Cast recording with Kim Criswell as Ruth and Audra McDonald as Eileen, with Thomas Hampson, and Rodney Gilfry. The recording is conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
- 2002: A live performance in Berlin on DVD with Kim Criswell as Ruth and Audra McDonald as Eileen, and with Thomas Hampson and Wayne Marshall, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
- 2003: The cast recording of a new revival with Donna Murphy and Jennifer Westfeldt as Ruth and Eileen, respectively.
- 2004: A new recording of the 2003 production, with Brooke Shields and Jennifer Hope Wills as Ruth and Eileen, respectively. For this recording, the original orchestral tracks from the New Broadway recording were used, and only Ruth and Eileen's songs were rerecorded.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|1953||Tony Award||Best Musical||Won|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Rosalind Russell||Won|
|Best Choreography||Donald Saddler||Won|
|Best Conductor and Musical Director||Lehman Engel||Won|
|Best Scenic Design||Raoul Pène Du Bois||Won|
|Theatre World Award||Edie Adams||Won|
Original London production
|1986||Laurence Olivier Award||Best New Musical||Nominated|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Maureen Lipman||Nominated|
2003 Broadway revival
|2004||Tony Award||Best Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Donna Murphy||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical||Jennifer Westfeldt||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Kathleen Marshall||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Donna Murphy||Won|
|Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical||Raymond Jaramillo McLeod||Nominated|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||Kathleen Marshall||Nominated|
|Outstanding Set Design||John Lee Beatty||Nominated|
|Theatre World Award||Jennifer Westfeldt||Won|
- NY Times review of 2000 Encores! production
- Profile of the show at guidetomusicaltheatre.com
- Information about the show
- Profile of the show from the Tams Witmark site
- Background from the Leonard Bernstein site
- Time Magazine article about Russell and the show
- 1953 Original Broadway production at the Internet Broadway Database
- 2003 Broadway revival at the Internet Broadway Database
- Wonderful Town at the Internet Movie Database (1958 TV film)
- The Best Musical Written in Five Weeks