Theatre Review - Wonderful Town, The Lowry, Salford

Wonderful Town
Wonderful Town

With the Halle’s symphony orchestra filling the pit, the Royal Exchange’s Braham Murray directing and the Lowry’s purple and orange livery even picked out in the stage design this is a production that justifies all its promise.

It’s also time to set aside leading lady Connie Fisher’s initial claim to fame - as winner of TV’s hunt for a Sound of Music star - and recognise her considerable talents as a consummate stage actress.

Comparisons with Maureen Lipman are inevitable, since she originally performed the role of Ruth Sherwood in the West End.

It’s a part written for a comedy actress as much as a singer, and is based on the real-life impressions of bohemian New York by writer Ruth McKenney.

Leonard Bernstein wrote the music, in a matter of weeks, and while it’s fair to say the show is never likely to appear in anyone’s Top Ten musicals, this production more than compensates with a thoroughly entertaining, energetic and colour performance.

The songs tend to be used to colour in the characters, or the settings, and the closest anyone is likely to get to a power ballad they can take home as their ‘songworm’ is A Quiet Girl.

But no-one can deny the luscious dimension added to the music by the Halle, under the control of Sir Mark Elder, or the invention given to the show by Simon Higlett’s set and costume designs.

As the heart-breaking Eileen Sherwood, alongside her wise-cracking ‘sister’ Ruth, Lucy van Gasse brings a matching comedy performance and a superb singing voice.

Her Riverdancing tableau with New York’s finest Irish cops is one of several standout moments.

Michael Xavier brings his homegrown Manchester talent to bear as leading man, but this is as much an ensemble show where every character has been fleshed out with directorial authenticity.

The show runs until April 21.