Friday, August 7, 2015

"Wonderful Town"

I often post comments or review of shows that are put on by the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston. This summer, they've already put on some terrific productions: "Guys and Dolls" starring Brent Barrett in June, and "Kiss Me, Kate" starring Rick Hilsabeck and Sarah Pfisterer in July. And tonight, their final summer production opens: "Wonderful Town."

Sadly, this charming little show is not terribly well-known. The musical was written in 1953, based on a 1940 play titled "My Sister Eileen" which, in turn, was based on  a series of short stories published in the New Yorker by Ruth McKenney. The book of the musical was written by the authors of the play, Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov, the lyrics were written by the well-known Broadway team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and the music was composed by Leonard Bernstein. The original Broadway production starred Rosalind Russell as Ruth, and the 2003 revival starred Donna Murphy (who grew up in nearby Topsfield MA), and later Brooke Shields.

The story is set in 1935, when Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, a pair of young sisters from Ohio, move to Greenwich Village. Witty but plain Ruth is an aspiring writer, and lovely and popular Eileen is an aspiring actress.

The two find themselves a stereotypical cheap apartment, which shakes nearly to pieces on a regular basis due to nearby subway construction, and which is filled with a stream of crazy and fascinating people, including neighbors Wreck the football player and his girlfriend Helen, heavily-accented and volatile landlord Mr. Appopolous, returning "customers" of former tenant Violet, some Brazilian navy cadets, various assorted artsy residents of their Christopher Street neighborhood, and three of Eileen's admirers: Frank, the manager of the local Walgreen's; Bob, a magazine editor; and Chick, a newspaper reporter.

Ruth becomes frustrated at rejection after rejection of her stories, while Eileen is enjoying her popularity despite her lack of success in finding an acting job. Eileen gets arrested for accidentally causing a riot, but in typical fashion, charms the entire police force. Ruth promises to bail her out, but in the meantime, Mr. Appopopolous threatens to evict them - until Eileen gets a job offer as a nightclub singer, and he relents, realizing she'll have a regular paycheck. The night of her first performance, Eileen panics and pulls Ruth onstage to join her.

The two are a hit, and to add to the jubilation, Chick appears with a job offer from his paper for Ruth, and Bob declares his love for her, and they all live happily ever after.

The score of the show includes a number of catchy (if not exactly familiar) tunes: Ohio ("Why, oh why, oh why-oh, why did I ever leave Ohio?"), One Hundred Easy Ways ("You're met a charming fellow and you're out for a spin. The motor fails and he just wears a helpless grin. Don't bat your eyes and say, 'What a romantic spot we're in.' Just get out, crawl under the car, tell him it's the gasket and fix it in two seconds flat with a bobby pin. That's a good way to lose a man."), A Little Bit in Love, and Wrong Note Rag. The ensemble dance numbers, including Conquering New York, Conga, and Swing, keep the energy level high and showcase the fun dance styles of the 30s.

I have not seen Reagle's production yet, but if the quality is anywhere near the previous summer shows, there will be gorgeous sets and costumes, spectacular dancing, wonderful voices, and lots of fun to be had with the residents of Christopher Street. Get your tickets now!