Category: Archive

Murphy shines in revival of 50s favorite

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The libretto for ?Wonderful Town? was written by Broadway professionals Joseph Fields and Edward Chodorov, based on ?My Sister Eileen,? the stage comedy they had crafted a decade or so earlier, based upon a series of popular New Yorker magazine stories by Ruth McKenney.
McKenney, renamed Ruth Sherwood for the stage version of her tales, had come from Columbus, Ohio, accompanied by her dazzlingly blonde sister, Eileen, intent on becoming a writer, and taken a basement flat at 14 Gay Street in Greenwich Village.
The Irish-American film star, Rosalind Russell, had starred as Ruth in a popular 1942 movie version of the play, and, a decade later, co-author Fields suggested to Russell that she make her Broadway debut in the musical version of the show that was being written by composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
?Wonderful Town? opened at the Winter Garden Theater on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 1953, closing on July 3, 1954, having racked up a total of 559 performances, with Carol Channing replacing Russell at the end of the star?s contract.
The show?s fast-moving new production started life two seasons ago as one of the New York City Center?s admirable ?Encore!? series, following the path to Broadway blazed by the still-running ?Chicago? a few years earlier.
Ironically, the revival, at the newly renamed Al Hirschfield Theatre, formerly the Martin Beck, rides on the capable shoulders of another star presence with deep Irish roots, in this case Donna Murphy.
The adroit, graceful singer-actress has been seen in leading roles in reasonably recent Broadway musicals, first as Fosca, the neurotic heroine of Stephen Sondheim?s ?Passion,? and then as Anna, the Welsh schoolmistress in Christopher Renshaw?s acclaimed revival of Rogers and Hammerstein?s ?The King and I.?
In ?Wonderful Town,? however, fine as the show is from top to bottom, Murphy enriches and elevates it by giving the kind of sparkling star performance that the late Rosalind Russell gave very nearly fifty-one years ago, and the audience, recognizing her for the talent she is, cheers her on at every juncture.
The show is set in ?New York City, 1935,? but the show?s consistent energy makes it feel more or less contemporary.
What has been obscured by the passing years, and the dearth of revivals of this particular show, is that ?Wonderful Town? contains a Bernstein score of stunning variety and virtuosity, fully able to stand alongside the maestro?s better-known output.
?Wonderful Town? is a joy, and should delight Broadway audiences for as long a time as Donna Murphy opts to remain with the show.

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