Everyone knows Bernstein for the much loved 'West Side Story' (and for good reason), but Saturday night's performance of his (also award-winning) musical 'Wonderful Town' has me wondering if we should be belting 'Ruth!' instead of 'Maria!'. Granted, whilst Ruth is a far less alluring name to express in song, these musicals have many of the same ingredients that make them both so much fun to watch, be it the New York locale or dazzling dance numbers, you might find yourself falling a little bit in love. Once again, Squabbalogic and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir team up to bring us this tale of two sisters who move to the big apple. If the major criticism of their last collaboration, 'Of Thee, I Sing', was that it was misogynistic (which I completely denounced in my review 'Political Lampoon On Point'), there is no way anyone could claim it for this story of strong-willed sisters. Ruth brings more than her fair share of feminist ambitions, not to mention a good deal of gumption to see them through.
We begin our journey on Christopher Street, New York in 1935, where bohemians abound and life is all abuzz. Ruth the writer trying to fight her way in and Eileen her eye-catching sister come from the parochial Ohio and they're in for a rude awakening as they search for a place to stay. Learning the lesson that the city never sleeps (unless it's with Violet), their apartment is found to be less than desirable, but they're fast running out of options. From here we go on a journey as these women try to make it on their own, finding friends, purpose and many a suitor (mostly for Eileen).
Stepping out as the most wonderful woman in wonderful town has to be our sassy heroine. Like a diamond in the rough city, Virginia Gay does more than shine as Ruth Sherwood, she makes the character completely her own and enthrals us. A seasoned professional, Virginia's experience really shows here as she provides a highly nuanced performance. Her sarcasm along with her beautiful baritone notes blend together to create magic with songs such as 'One hundred easy ways' (to lose a man). She is entrancing and accessible as Ruth and you can't help but give her a big round of applause as she takes her bow, it's simply involuntary.
On the other (more petite) hand, we have Georgina Walker gracing the stage as our Eileen Sherwood. Every inch the beauty, the part seems to fit her like a glove and she makes it hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Flitting around the stage, she does have a slip up here or there (such as an interrupted line or two), but like all the men in her life, we're eager to forgive her. It's safe to say this duo are a big hit, complimenting each other to a tee.
Not only were the stars of the show glistening, but they were held up by a stellar supporting cast. Whilst all deserve an honourable mention, the standout simply has to be Scott Morris who was the true definition of a triple threat. Acting up a storm as the local Walgreens manager, Frank Lippencott, a flamboyant tour guide and an Irish policeman to name a few, he gave a captivating and unique performance for each (with perfect accents to boot). Not only this, but he was also the standout for the many dancing numbers. Always hitting his mark, he caught the audience's eye with every shimmer of his jazz hands. Finally, his singing was the icing on a delicious cake. His Irish accent and velvet voice made the ode to our bonnie beauty, 'My Darlin' Eileen', one of this viewer's favourite songs. In all, he was close on the heels of our two heroines to stealing the show.
However, it wasn't a completely smooth ride to the finish line. Once again, it seemed there was a small issue with microphones, volume and just being turned on at the right time. This can be incredibly distracting for an audience and hopefully gets sorted for their next production as we wish for everything to blend perfectly together. Speaking of blending, another slightly disappointing aspect was the Sydney Philharmonia Choir - not because they weren't fantastic, on the contrary, this viewer wanted more. Still 350 strong, whilst last year's performance of 'Of Thee, I Sing' truly felt like an ensemble piece, here they did comparatively little and it was sad to see so much talent not being put to more use.
Overall, 'Wonderful Town' is a musical far ahead of its time. This dynamic duo inspire us to follow our dreams, but without forgetting who we are. Such a light-hearted and enjoyable night out, this is another production that Squabbalogic and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs can add to their list of successes. There's definitely something for everyone as long as you're ready t- CONGA!