BWW Reviews: WONDERFUL TOWN: A Nice Place to Visit

Wonderful Town

Book by Joseph Fields & Jerome Chodorov, Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green, Based upon the play My Sister Eileen by Joseph Fields & Jerome Chodorov and the stories by Ruth McKenney; Producing Artistic Director, Robert J. Eagle; Directed by David Hugo; Choreography, Eileen Grace; Music Director and Conductor, Dan Rodriguez; Scenic Design, Richard E. Schreiber; Costume Design, Costume World Theatrical and Vicky VieBrooks; Lighting Design, David Wilson; Technical Director, Lori E. Baruch; Production Stage Manager, Natalie A. Lynch; Assistant Stage Manager, Nicky Carbone

CAST; Katie Anne Clark, Jennifer Ellis, Kevin Cirone, Jack F. Agnew, Susan Carity Conkey, Dave Carney, Julianne Daly, Doug Gerber, Christopher A. King, Dan Prior, Aaron Michael Ray, Abby Slocum; Ensemble: Noa Baker-Durante, Annabella Joy Barks, Ryan Borses, Monique Borses, Ryan Christopher, Connor Fallon, Leo Galletto, Molly Keane-Dreyer, Andrea Lyons, Paul Marchesiani, Benny Marcus, Logan Marks, Kevin Patrick Martin, Allsun O'Malley, Chris Scott, Alyssa Surrette, Gary Vincent, Sarah Vincelett, Sarah Warrick, Mara Wilson, Andrew Winans, Adam Winer, Jonathan Zeidler

Performances through August 16 at Reagle Music Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA; Box Office 781-891-5600 or www.ReagleMusicTheatre.com

Katie Anne Clark and Jennifer Ellis, two shining lights of the Boston regional theater scene, are dynamite as the dynamic Sherwood sisters in the Reagle Music Theatre production of Wonderful Town, winner of five 1953 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. To say it's an old-fashioned musical comedy would be an understatement, but the music of Leonard Bernstein and lyrics of Betty Comden and Adolph Green could never be out of style. The book by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov (based upon their play My Sister Eileen and the stories by Ruth McKenney) is funny from start to finish, and Director David Hugo keeps everything moving at a good clip so the laughs roll in like waves upon the shore.

When the Reagle season schedule was announced this past spring, the press release touted Rachel York starring in the role of Ruth Sherwood. However, York withdrew (after being cast as Little Edie in Grey Gardens at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor) and Clark embraced her Peggy Sawyer opportunity. RMT audiences will remember her earlier fine portrayals of Cassie in A Chorus Line and Nellie in South Pacific, but this part is right in her wheelhouse. Clark displays a great gift for comedy with as many facial expressions as Fanny Brice and she is an accomplished dancer. Her singing shows an ability to belt or be sweet, although she faltered slightly in close harmony with Ellis on the sisters' duet "Ohio," but Clark definitely carries the show as the brassy older sibling.

As the beautiful aspiring actress and younger sister Eileen, Ellis could get away with just looking good and flashing her dimples, but she continues her recent spate of roles that require her to do more. She does look good and flash her dimples, but she also finds the heart in her character, shows that she knows her way around a pivot turn, and confirms that hers is the most luminous vocal instrument in this or any other town. She and Clark have a natural connection that makes them believable as sisters who are willing to make sacrifices for each other and share more revelry than rivalry.

The men who parade through their lives include their artsy landlord Appopolous (cute and curmudgeonly Jack F. Agnew), a former football hero named Wreck (sweet and goofy David Carney), and Speedy Valenti, a cool nightclub owner (very smooth Aaron Michael Ray). Eileen is the object of a war for her affections between mundane but earnest Frank (Dan Prior) and hot-to-trot newspaper man Chick (Doug Gerber), and acquires the devotion of the beat cop, Officer Lonigan (Christopher A. King). Although she draws the attention of a group of Brazilian naval cadets ("Conga!"), Ruth is a one-man woman with her cap set for Robert Baker, an editor she hopes will publish her writing. Kevin Cirone captures the mixed feelings that Baker has about Ruth and her work, but has his best moment when he realizes (in song, of course) that "It's Love."

Music Director/Conductor Dan Rodriguez fronts an orchestra with 22 musicians, an impressive number in these days of synthesizers and shrinking funds, and the effect is stunning from the first notes of the Overture. They never overpower the singers and provide a rich soundscape for the big dance numbers featuring the extraordinary choreography of Eileen Grace. The ensemble players (more than a few have Boston Conservatory credentials) are triple threats, portraying minor characters, as well as singing and dancing up a storm with brio. Dance captain Andrew Winans and Kevin Patrick Martin are a couple of standouts.

Wonderful Town is wonderful to look at with gorgeous costumes from Costume World Theatrical and Vicky VieBrooks. Every dress worn by Ellis and Clark is eye-catching and evocative of the 1930s, and Reagle alum Peter Mill designed their period wigs (ensemble wig design by Erin Covey). Scenic designer Richard E. Schreiber and lighting designer David Wilson imagine the world outside on Christopher Street and the subterranean hovel that is home to Ruth and Eileen using a combination of moveable sets and painted backdrops, and Hugo effectively uses scrims to create tableaux that add interest to his staging. If you like your summer theater to be entertaining, fire up your GPS and get directions to Wonderful Town. The Sherwood sisters will be waiting!

Photo credit: Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/Herb Philpott (Katie Anne Clark and Ensemble)

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From This Author Nancy Grossman

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