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Wonderful Town
Rosalind Russell in the original Broadway production of Wonderful Town, from the cover of Time (March 30, 1953)
Music Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics Betty Comden
Adolph Green
Book Joseph A. Fields
Jerome Chodorov
Basis Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov's play My Sister Eileen, based on Ruth McKenney's stories
Productions1953 Broadway
1955 and 1986 West End
2003 Broadway revival
2006 Non-Equity U.S. Tour
Awards Tony Award for Best Musical

Wonderful Town is a 1953 musical with book written by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and music by Leonard Bernstein. The musical tells the story of two sisters who aspire to be a writer and actress respectively, seeking success from their basement apartment in New York City's Greenwich Village. It is based on Fields and Chodorov's 1940 play My Sister Eileen, which in turn originated from autobiographical short stories by Ruth McKenney first published in The New Yorker in the late 1930s and later published in book form as My Sister Eileen. Only the last two stories in McKenney's book were used, and they were heavily modified.

After a pre-Broadway try-out at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia, Wonderful Town premiered on Broadway in 1953, starring Rosalind Russell in the role of Ruth Sherwood, Edie Adams as Eileen Sherwood, and George Gaynes as Robert Baker. It won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Actress, and spawned three New York City Center productions between 1958 and 1966, the 1955 and 1986 West End production and 2003 Broadway revival. It is a lighter piece than Bernstein's later works, West Side Story and Candide, but none of the songs have become as popular.


Act I

During the summer of 1935 in Greenwich Village, New York, a tour guide leads a group of sightseers on a tour of " Christopher Street" and its colorful residents.

When the tourists have departed, the witty Ruth Sherwood arrives in Greenwich Village with Eileen, her younger sister. The two have just arrived from Columbus, Ohio, determined to forge a life in New York City as a writer (Ruth) and an actress (Eileen). Soon they are living in a basement apartment, recently vacated by Violet. Their landlord is Mr. Appopolous. Their apartment building is shaken frequently by dynamite from the construction of a subway underneath them and they are disturbed by Violet's returning customers. The sisters are soon stricken with homesickness for "Ohio".

The next morning, Ruth and Eileen set out to try their hand at "Conquering New York", only to find defeat and humiliation. Eileen, at least, has gotten food from a food samples man, as well as Mr. Valenti, but has also met Frank Lippencott, a local Walgreens manager who has developed a crush on her. Ruth, however, is left to wonder at her sister's magnetic appeal and her own unique romantic abilities — a talent for repelling men that is so successful that she could write a book entitled "One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man."

Eventually, Ruth talks her way into the offices of a short story magazine, where she meets Bob Baker. Bob likes Ruth, but advises her that she has little chance of success, and tells her flat out what a waste of money and time it was to come to New York City, because he along with many others have done the same thing ("What a Waste"). Undaunted, Ruth leaves three stories with Bob in the hope that he will read them.

Meanwhile, Eileen has been eating all of her lunches free at Walgreens, and finds herself infatuated with Frank ("A Little Bit in Love"), and invites him over to dinner so Ruth can have free lunches when she goes to Walgreens, too. Bob arrives at the apartment, looking for Ruth, and Eileen invites him over for dinner as well. The phone rings, and it is Chick Clark, a newspaper editor, whom Eileen met in an elevator, wanting to see Eileen.

The upstairs neighbors, Wreck, an out-of-season American football player ("Pass the Football"), and his live-in lover, Helen, ask the girls to hide Wreck while Helen's mother, Mrs. Ella Wade is in town, because Mrs. Wade does not yet know about Wreck. Eileen happily agrees to stow him in their apartment, much to Ruth's hesitation. Wreck describes his lucky history as a student at Trenton Tech, who got by very well only because of his ability with football.

Eileen has invited Frank Lippencott, Bob Baker, and Chick Clark, a slimy newspaper scribe whom she has met with the object of furthering Ruth's career, over for potluck supper. Unaware of each other's feelings, both women find themselves attracted to Bob. Soon, all five of them are seated around the cramped apartment trying to fill the awkward silence ("Conversation Piece"). Meanwhile, Helen deals with her overbearing and exaggerated mother.

Ruth and Bob talk over the quality of her stories, and he advises her to write about what she knows rather than flights of fancy. Both say several wrong things, and he finally tells her off. He soon regrets it as Ruth rushes inside in tears ("A Quiet Girl").

While all this is happening, anxious to be alone with Eileen, Chick Clark creates a bogus assignment for Ruth. He sends her off to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to interview a group of Brazilian navy cadets. She quickly realizes that their sole interest is to learn and dance the "Conga!". The sailors follow Ruth home, where the girls soon find themselves in chaotic confusion, as all the citizens of Christopher Street join the conga line in a finale. Ruth runs into Bob and gives him a piece of her mind, while Eileen is hauled off to jail for causing the riot.

Act II

In the local jail Eileen finds herself practically running the place, with Officer Lonigan and his brigade of doting Irish police officers at her beck and call. Given her name, they are convinced that she is Irish. They serenade her and are not at all discouraged when she says she is not Irish ("My Darlin' Eileen"). Ruth comes to assure Eileen that she will bail her out as soon as she collects the money from her new job as a promoter for the Village Vortex, a local nightclub. At the club, Ruth digs the rhythm of swing ("Wonderful Town Swing").

Meanwhile, Wreck is awkwardly masquerading as a wealthy art collector to meet the approval of Helen's mother, and Chick is frantically calling Eileen, trying to make things right.

Thanks to Bob, Eileen is soon released from jail, and the sisters learn that Mr. Appopolous has been so scandalized by a missing picture that he painted (that was actually stolen and sold for $2 by Helen and Wreck for Wreck to stay at the Y) as well as Eileen's arrest that he has threatened to evict them. Eileen discovers that Ruth is also attracted to Bob Baker, and the two of them wish, for a moment, that they had never left home ("Ohio" (reprise)). Eileen is then confronted by the rhythmical Speedy Valenti, owner of the Village Vortex (the night club), who arranges for her New York City debut as a singer because her fame has reached the front page of the news. Mr. Appopolous immediately changes his tune now that one of his tenants has a paying job, and extends their lease.

Eileen soon learns that Bob Baker has quit his job as a result of a disagreement with his boss about Ruth's story on the Brazilian sailors. Eileen is thrilled that Bob quit his job and assures the unbelieving Bob that it's love that he feels for Ruth. Bob, faced with the facts, hesitantly realizes the truth that it is love ("It's Love").

The mood at the Vortex turns jazzy ("Ballet At the Village Vortex"). Eileen finds herself with a case of stage fright and she convinces Ruth to join her on stage to sing. Chick arrives to make amends and presents Ruth with a press pass: His boss has read her story about the Brazilian sailors and loved it, and given Ruth a job to take on the following Monday. The Vortex is alive with singing and dancing ("Wrong Note Rag"), and Bob decides it is the perfect moment to let Ruth know how he feels. The curtain closes as Eileen and the guests at the club sing "It's Love" along with everyone in a finale in celebration of Ruth and Bob's newfound affection.

Musical numbers

"Conquering New York" and "Conversation Piece" both quote Bernstein's piece for solo clarinet and jazz ensemble, " Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs", premiered by Benny Goodman in 1955.

Production history

Original Broadway production

Rosalind Russell on the cover of Time (March 30, 1953)

Produced by Robert Fryer, the original production premiered at the Winter Garden Theatre on February 25, 1953, where it ran for 559 performances, closing on July 3, 1954. George Abbott served as director, with choreography by Donald Saddler. The original cast featured Rosalind Russell in the role of Ruth Sherwood, Edie Adams as Eileen Sherwood, and George Gaynes as Robert Baker. Carol Channing replaced Russell for the final 6 months of the run. [1]

Original London production

The West End premiere opened at The Prince's Theatre on February 25, 1955, running for 207 performances starring Pat Kirkwood as Ruth, Shani Wallis as Eileen, and Sid James as Wreck. The musical was produced by Jack Hylton with Cyril Ornadel as music director. [2]

1958 television production

On November 30, 1958, CBS Television broadcast a live special of the musical, with Rosalind Russell (Ruth Sherwood), Jackie McKeever (Eileen Sherwood), Sydney Chaplin (Bob Baker), and Jordan Bentley (the Wreck). [3]

2003 Broadway revival

Poster for the 2003 revival

In May 2000 City Center Encores! presented a staged concert starring Donna Murphy and Laura Benanti. With direction and choreography by Kathleen Marshall, the production was well received, eventually leading to a full revival. [4] Again directed by Marshall, the 2003 Broadway Revival opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on November 23, 2003, and closed on January 30, 2005 after 497 performances. Murphy reprised her role as Ruth, with Jennifer Westfeldt as Eileen and Gregg Edelman as Robert. [5] Brooke Shields took over the role of Ruth beginning September 28, 2004. [6] As had happened when Shields was a replacement for Rizzo in the Broadway revival of Grease, the cast album was re-released with Shields' voice replacing Murphy's. [7]

Other productions

A West End revival starring Maureen Lipman opened at the Queen's Theatre in August 1986 and closed March 1987.

A Non-Equity National Tour was presented by Music Theatre Associates in 2006 and 2007.

Wonderful Town premiered on May 25, 2008 at the Shaw Festival in Niagara On The Lake, Ontario. [8]

In 2012 the Hallé Concerts Society, the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, and The Lowry, Salford Quays, mounted a joint production at the Lowry from 31 March to 21 April, with the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder. [9] It then went on to tour the UK until 7 July. The cast included Connie Fisher, Lucy van Gasse and Michael Xavier. The production was directed by Braham Murray.

Mary Zimmerman directed the 2016 Goodman Theatre (Chicago) revival which previewed from September 10 to run September 20 to October 23: the cast included Bri Sudia (Ruth) Lauren Molina (Eileen), and Matt DeCaro (Appopoulos), the sets were designed by Todd Rosenthal. The production was staged with a 1950s - rather than 1930s - setting. [10] [11]

An off-West-End production was presented at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre by All Star Productions in October 2016.

In Dec 2016, the Staatsoperette Dresden presents the premiere of a German version (book and lyrics translated by Roman Hinze)

Opera Holland Park mounted a 2021 revival of Wonderful Town headlined by Louise Dearman as Ruth: running July 1–4, the production featured Ako Mitchell as Bob Baker. [12]


Though there have been only two major Broadway productions of Wonderful Town, many recordings of the music have been made over the years.

Awards and nominations

Original Broadway production

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1953 Tony Award Best Musical Won
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Rosalind Russell Won
Best Choreography Donald Saddler Won
Best Conductor and Musical Director Lehman Engel Won
Best Scenic Design Raoul Pène Du Bois Won
Theatre World Award Edie Adams Won

1986 London production

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1986 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical Nominated
Best Actress in a Musical Maureen Lipman Nominated

2003 Broadway revival

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2004 Tony Award Best Revival of a Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Donna Murphy Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Jennifer Westfeldt Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Kathleen Marshall Nominated
Best Choreography Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Donna Murphy Won
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical Raymond Jaramillo McLeod Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical Kathleen Marshall Nominated
Outstanding Choreography Won
Outstanding Set Design John Lee Beatty Nominated
Theatre World Award Jennifer Westfeldt Won

See also


  1. ^ " 'Wonderful Town' Listing" Archived 2013-12-26 at the Wayback Machine, accessed January 11, 2014
  2. ^ Issuu Mag. London Musicals: Years 1955/59"
  3. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Museum of Television & Radio Offers Original Russell 'Wonderful Town', Dec. 26-Jan. 4" Archived 2014-01-11 at the Wayback Machine, December 23, 2003
  4. ^ Simonson, Robert and Jones, Kenneth. "Encores!' Wonderful Town May Have Future" Archived 2011-06-04 at the Wayback Machine,, May 17, 2000
  5. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Full Cast of Broadway's Wonderful Town Announced" Archived 2014-01-11 at the Wayback Machine, September 22, 2003
  6. ^ "Person List". Playbill.
  7. ^ Culwell-Block, Logan. "9 Original Cast Albums Featuring Replacement Performers", Playbill, November 17, 2022
  8. ^ Ouzounian, Richard. " 'Wonderful Town': Just shy of wonderful", May 26, 2008
  9. ^ "News". Archived from the original on 2016-06-11. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  10. ^ "Wonderful Town (Goodman Theatre Production, 2016) | Ovrtur".
  11. ^ "Wonderful Town | TheaterMania". 20 September 2016.
  12. ^


External links