Book by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov. Based on the novel, My Sister Eileen by Ruth McKenney. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The original Broadway production opened on 26 February 1953 and was directed by George Abbott, with choreogrpahy by Donald Saddler. The production closed on 3 July 1954, running for a total of 559 performances.
Synopsis and Musical Numbers
Wonderful Town is the story of Eileen and Ruth Sherwood, two sisters who are fresh off the bus from Ohio and are bursting with dreams of making it big, falling in love and living happily ever after in New York City during the 1930s (OVERTURE). Ruth is an aspiring writer, average in appearance and who can’t keep a man’s attention – no matter what. Eileen, a fledgling actress, is Ruth’s opposite. She is a beautiful dancer, who – without even trying – has men falling at her feet. At the play’s opening, a guide is showing a group of tourists the sights of Greenwich Village (CHRISTOPHER STREET). Various members of this colourful bohemian community are introduced: Mr. Appopolous (a dynamic and explosive artist), Lonigan (the policeman who patrols the district), Wreck (a football player) and Helen (Wreck’s girlfriend). Ruth and Eileen arrive on the scene, claiming that someone has stolen their typewriter. Appoplolous, who has ended up with the typewriter in question, returns it. When the sisters mention that they need a place to stay, Appopolous offers to let them see an apartment he owns that was just vacated.
The girls end up with a one month lease on a tiny, basement studio apartment near a subway construction site. The apartment lacks charm and privacy – it is below street level and contains two daybeds, a fake fireplace and one barred window that looks out onto the street. When a man walks in the front door looking for Violet, the former tenant, and a prostitute, the girls call for help. Wreck, their neighbour, scares the man off. Later that night the sisters begin to regret their decision to rent the apartment – they are homesick for OHIO.
A pantomime shows the sisters’ struggles in CONQUERING THE CITY in their respective fields. Wherever Ruth goes with her manuscripts, no one is interested; wherever Eileen goes for theatre jobs, the people are interested in her but not as an actress. The girls are very discouraged. A few weeks later, on the street, Eileen has managed to accumulate quite a group of helpful gentlemen-in-waiting. The floor manager of the supermarket who gives food samples; Speedy Valenti, owner of the Village Vortex, a local nightclub, who might hire Eileen if he knew her a little better; and Frank, the manager of Walgreen’s drugstore who gives her free lunches. Ruth is amazed at Eileen’s innocent ability to attract men and comments on her own problems with the opposite sex (ONE HUNDRED EASY WAYS).
Meanwhile, Ruth has been trying to get an editor of the Manhatter, Robert Baker, to look at her work. Although skeptical, he reads some of her stories. He and two other editors advise her to return to Ohio while commenting on the waste of talented people in New York (WHAT A WASTE). Baker finally reads three of Ruth’s stories, all containing sophisticated heroines in worldly situations, while Ruth acts out the vignettes with herself as the heroines (RUTH’S STORIES).
On his way to work, Frank meets Eileen on the street and gives her a box of candy. She reminds him of their dinner date and imagines herself A LITTLE BIT IN LOVE. Back at the apartment, Wreck and Helen have convinced the girls to let Wreck live in their kitchen during Helen’s mother’s visit. Wreck, in the garden of the apartment, brags to the delivery boys about his college career as a football hero (PASS THE FOOTBALL).
Eileen has invited three men, including Robert from the Manhatter, to dinner at the apartment. Everyone tries to ease the tension created by not having anything to discuss (CONVERSATION PIECE). After Robert tells Ruth she has talent, but she must stop writing about situations she hasn’t experienced, a stormy argument ensues and she leaves. Baker yearns for a long lasting relationship with someone quiet and gentle (A QUIET GIRL). Chick Clark, a newspaperman and admirer of Eileen’s, desires to be alone with her and sends Ruth to Brooklyn on a phony assignment. At the Naval Yard, Ruth attempts to interview a group of Brazilian cadets, but they are more interested in the Conga. Every time she asks their opinion they break into a wild CONGA and force her to join in. The men Conga Ruth all the way back to her apartment. The wild party that follows is raided by the police, who arrest Eileen as part of a prostitution ring.
At the Christopher Street Police Station, Eileen has become the darling of the force (MY DARLIN’ EILEEN). She is visited by Ruth, who marches around with an electric “Village Vortex” sign across her chest drumming up business (SWING!). Ruth takes Baker’s advice and writes about something she has experienced, namely the Brazilian Admirals and her sister’s arrest. Baker argues with his editor who refuses to publish it and gets fired. When he bails Eileen out of prison, he tries to convince her that this event was a matter of principle but she tells him he’s upset because he loves Ruth (IT’S LOVE). Eileen arrives back at the apartment, followed by Chick Clark whose editor wants to offer Ruth a job, and Speedy Valenti, who offers Eileen a singing job at his club.
At the VILLAGE VORTEX, Speedy Valenti’s offers Eileen is offered a cabaret spot in the nightclub’s act and this ends up being a resounding success (WRONG NOTE RAG). Robert admits he loves Ruth and things turn out just fine for everyone(FINALE).
Purchases from Amazon.com
From left to right above: 1. Wonderful Town Original Broadway Cast CD. 2. Wonderful Town First Complete Recording – 1998 Studio Cast CD. 3. Wonderful Town 2003 Broadway Revival Cast CD. 4. The New York Musicals of Betty Comden and Adpolh Green – includes Wonderful Town. 5. Wonderful Town – Vocal Selections.
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