Wonderful, Wonderful: Murphy Goes on the Town as Bernstein Revival Opens on Broadway, Nov. 23

By Robert Simonson
23 Nov 2003

Donna Murphy (left) and Jessica Westfeldt in Wonderful Town
Donna Murphy (left) and Jessica Westfeldt in Wonderful Town
Photo by Paul Kolnick

The Sherwood sisters are not in Ohio anymore as the first Broadway revival of Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green's 1953 valentine to New York City opens at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Nov. 23.

Previews began on Nov. 5, and the days in between has not been a smooth ride for producers Fran and Barry Weissler and Roger Berlind. Star Donna Murphy, who plays the central role of Ruth Sherwood, took ill with flu after just one day of performance. Several previews were canceled and understudy Linda Mugleston filled in at several more. Murphy, who had been advised by physicians not to perform, returned full-time Nov. 18. All throughout, the show held fast to its originally scheduled opening date of Nov. 23.

The production marks two-time Tony-winner Murphy's first Broadway show since 1996's The King and I, and choreographer Kathleen Marshall's Broadway directorial debut.

Marshall and Murphy first tackled the piece in May 2000 at City Center, as an Encores! concert production. "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."

Wonderful Town is an affectionate portrait of 1930s Greenwich Village. The story brings characters from My Sister Eileen back to life. The score—famous for being written in only a few months—includes such songs as "Conga!," "Ohio," "Christopher Street," "My Darlin' Eileen," "A Quiet Girl," "What a Waste" and "Wrong Note Rag." Rosalind Russell starred as big sister Ruth in both the original and in a TV version. (In an odd bit of history repeating itself, Russell, too, came down with flu soon after the first performance, with an understudy taking over.)



Murphy plays Ruth to Jennifer Westfeldt's sister Eileen. Gregg Edelman is jaded editor Robert Baker. Also in the cast are Nancy Anderson, Randy Danson, Peter Benson, Michael McGrath, David Margulies, Raymond Jaramillo McLeod, Stanley Wayne Mathis and Timothy Shew.

A Class Act star Anderson will play Helen; Danson (Pericles) will be Mrs. Wade; Benson (Picasso at the Lapin Agile) is Frank Lippincott; McGrath (Little Me) is Chick Clark; Margulies (45 Seconds from Broadway) plays Appopolous; McLeod (Dance of the Vampires) portrays Wreck; Mathis (Kiss Me, Kate) is Speedy Valenti; and Shew (The Scarlet Pimpernel) is Officer Lonigan.

In the ensemble are Ken Barnett, Joyce Chittick, Susan Derry, Randy Donaldson, David Eggers, Rick Faugno, Stephanie Fredricks, Lorin Latarro, Lisa Mayer, Linda Mugleston, Tina Ou, Vince Pesce, Mark Price, Devin Richards, Angela Robinson, Matthew Shepherd, Megan Sikora, JD Webster and Ray Wills.

Discussing the show's chances on Broadway, Edelman said, "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."

Tickets for the Broadway revival are now on sale. Interested parties should call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200.

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In an unusual twist on the usual Broadway status quo, Wonderful Town is the sole new musical revival in a fall season crowded with new material, including Wicked, Avenue Q, Taboo, Never Gonna Dance and The Boy from Oz. (Little Shop of Horrors previously played Off-Broadway, but never Broadway before this year.)