Our Town: Donna Murphy and Fellow Villagers Offer Tour of Wonderful Town

Our Town: Donna Murphy and Fellow Villagers Offer Tour of Wonderful Town Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green and Betty Comden's comic and affectionate 1953 portrait of 1930s Greenwich Village was on Oct. 16 recreated in modern midtown, as a cast headed by Donna Murphy sang and conga'd their way through a half dozen numbers from the score.
Donna Murphy and Jennifer Westfeldt in a press rehearsal for Wonderful Town
Donna Murphy and Jennifer Westfeldt in a press rehearsal for Wonderful Town Photo by Robert Simonson

The production will open Nov. 23 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, after previews from Nov. 5. Barry and Fran Weissler and Roger Berlind produce. Kathleen Marshall will direct. The trio of producers first saw Marshall marshal the show in May 2000 at City Center, in an Encores! concert version.

The City Center version featured the onstage orchestra seen at every Encores! concert. Marshall said that effect will be retained on Broadway. "We decided to leave the orchestra on stage, because Leonard Bernstein's score is one of the stars of the show," said Marshall, who also choreographs the show. "And, to me, Leonard Bernstein's music is New York. We really wanted to leave that front and center as one of the city's showcases. John Lee Beatty has built a beautiful, representational set, where the orchestra is part of a cityscape and things float in and around the players. The apartment floats in around them, and windows and things like that. But you always have their presence, which I love, because they represent the energy of New York."

For the press preview, however, the cast made do with a three piece combo. The presentation began with the ensemble member that opens the musical, "Christopher Street," in which a tour guide directs the attention of some out-of-town gawkers to the raffish bohemian denizens of the Village. The next number, "Ohio," introduced Jennifer Westfeldt and Donna Murphy as sisters Eileen and Ruth, two refugees from Ohio new to Manhattan.

Murphy—who won Tonys for Passion and The King and I—took the stage alone for the next number, "One Hundred Easy Ways," a prototypical Comden and Green comic set piece in which Ruth details the many ways her smarts have scared off interested suitors. Westfeldt, the "Kissing Jessica Stein" star possessed of a sweet soprano, was center stage for "A Little Bit in Love," which illustrates the fickle nature of Eileen's affections.

Greg Edelman, as cynical would-be writer Robert Baker, led a trio of men in the satiric ditty about punctured ambitions, "What a Waste." Finally, Murphy and a sextet of actors playing sailors acted out the antic production number "Conga!," in which reporter Ruth has plenty of questions for a group of seabees who only want her to drop her pencil and dance. During the final number, the sailors' roughhousing thoroughly unraveled Ruth's professional, reporter's bun. Murphy explained, "Kathleen said `I want to try going a bit further with this. I'd really like her to kind of get tossed around, thrown a lot.' I'm either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid, because I love that. I love the feeling of: I don't know what's going to happen next. It keeps me literally and figuratively on my toes. And Kathleen does everything before I do it and says `See? It's OK.'"

However, the added calisthenics may force the slim Murphy to change her diet. "My husband said, you've got to start eating hamburgers," she joked, "because I've lost eight pounds in rehearsal."

Murphy said Edelman—with whom she acted nearly a decade ago in the Broadway premiere of Passion—was suited to the role of Robert. "You need a guy with effortless weight and ease about being in his own skin," she explained. "And someone who can sing his butt off."

When he auditioned, Edelman was not familiar with the show, aside from knowing a couple songs from the score. About his character, he said, "It looks like he's going to be one of those cruel New Yorkers who give the girls a hard time. But he's a Midwesterner just like them. And the sisters bring out in him all his Midwestern roots, and actually help him rediscover what he wants to do with his life."

Westfeldt is the only Broadway virgin among the leads. She said she tried out on the very last day of auditions. A second audition and the role was hers. "It all happened very fast." She found it ironic that she was finally doing a Broadway musical after finding success on the big and small screens. "When I first came to New York, all I did was musicals for a year or two," said the Connecticut native. "And then I went to L.A. Once you start doing one thing, you sort of let the other one go away. That's what I've been doing [in regard to singing], since I've started doing TV and film."

Producer Berlind admitted selling the fifty-year-old show—which has never received a Broadway revival until now—was a tricky proposition. "Well, it's not an easy thing to do," he said. "I think our advertising program looks good. We have to get all the press coverage we can get, arrange the interviews, and word of mouth is going to carry the day."

Edelman, however, thought he knew why the show would succeed. "I think, for many years, it was a great show at the wrong time. Now it's a great show at the right time. For a long while, we had all British musicals and serious epics. Now, we're moving away from that and I think people want to go to the theatre to enjoy themselves. And Wonderful Town is fun and entertaining and witty."