Wonderful Town, was based on the play My Sister Eileen, which in turn,
was filmed by Columbia, in 1942, under that name, starring Rosalind Russell
(Ruth) and Janet Blair (Eileen). It was filmed again in 1955 using the same
title, this time with Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Bob Fosse
and Tommy Rall. Columbia were too mean to fork out for the winning stage-score
and engaged Jule Styne and Leo Robin to write a substitute. It was no match
for this Bernstein original.
Wonderful Town opened on Broadway in 1953 and ran for 559 performances. It
starred Rosalind Russell again as Ruth, but with Edith Adams as Eileen. Today,
Wonderful Town is largely overshadowed by Bernsteins other stage
works like On the Town and West Side Story which is a pity
as this sparkling new Rattle recording proves. Its story is about two sisters
from Ohio and their wacky adventures in New Yorks Greenwich Village.
Eileens beauty enslaves the men, including half the police force in
the very witty My Darlin Eileen in which they insist she
is Irish because they think she "comes from Kilarney." But Sister Ruth just
wants to become a successful writer. Bernsteins exuberant, jazz-based
score is big and breezy especially in the colourful celebration of the
larger-than-life characters of Christopher Street. The score
also embraces the conga, swing and rag forms. All the singers are excellent,
attacking their characterisations with great enthusiasm and commitment, and
relishing the sharp-witted lyrics of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Audra
McDonald as Eileen is sweetly sentimental in A Little Bit in Love
while Kim Criswell, as Ruth, is wickedly funny in One hundred easy
ways to (loose a man). The ever-versatile and impressive Thomas Hampson is
dreamily romantic in Its Love.
This album is a real tonic. Outstanding.