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"Wonderful Town"

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Encores! has pulled off one of its best semi-staged musical revivals, Wonderful Town. This 1953 show, with music by Leonard Bernstein, sketches and lyrics by Comden and Green, and a book by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov based on their play -- an adaptation of autobiographical stories by Ruth McKenney -- is about two Ohio sisters seeking success in the New York of the thirties. The girls are the somewhat mannish fledgling writer Ruth and her man-maddeningly gorgeous but naïve younger sister, Eileen.

Not a whit behind the fine original leads, Rosalind Russell and Edie Adams, were Encores' Donna Murphy and Laura Benanti. Although the latter is not quite the looker Eileen is meant to be, she acts and sings well enough to make us overlook it. As for Miss Murphy, she can do anything and finds a way of flaunting it without turning hammy. The trick is timing and a certain sophisticated irony with which she suffuses her work. Her démarches are always double-bottomed, the serious underpropping the comic and vice versa.

The supporting cast was mostly equally good, though the talented Richard Muenz has let himself go a bit flabby. Even the singing and dancing chorus was top-notch, with Cynthia Onrubia especially compelling. Nice bits of scenery by John Lee Beatty, costumes by William Ivey Long, and lighting by Peter Kaczorowski contributed their share, and Kathleen Marshall's imaginative choreography and Rob Fisher's Coffee Club Orchestra completed our purring enchantment.


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