In a case of art imitating life, The Little Theatre at St. John’s presented the Leonard Bernstein musical “Wonderful Town.” The story follows the journey of small town sisters with big city aspirations to New York to launch their careers in the arts. Ruth and Eileen get more than they bargained for with eccentric neighbors, amorous men and career snafus. They spend most of the show wondering “why, oh why oh” they left Ohio before giving in to the madness of the “Big Apple.”
Similarly, the freshmen in the cast must have been wondering why they agreed to do this show with midterms looming amid a group of relative strangers.
The original show debuted in 1953 based on another play “My Sister Eileen.” Between the original and 2003 revival, the show earned seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, two Theatre World Awards and two Drama Desk Awards.
The cast at St. John’s earned its share of delighted reviews as well. One student described the show as “a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.”
It is hard not to like a show that can incorporate shimmying sailors doing the “Conga” through the audience.
What made “Wonderful Town” a true success was the rapport shared by onstage sisters Kimberly Golladay and Penelope Nelson-Bissett.
Playing the na√ÉØve femme fatale Eileen, Golladay giggled her way through a love ballad (“A Little Bit in Love”) and fought off suitor after suitor. Most notably are Frank Lippencott (Paul Vallejo) the painfully awkward drugstore owner and Chick Clark (Joseph Cantalupo) the playboy newspaper writer.
Nelson-Bissett’s Ruth, a damsel minus the distress, tried to keep her eye on her goal to be a writer and not on the handsome assistant editor Bob Baker (Ryan Franzese) trying to help her. Next door, former football star Wreck (Jonathan Randhawa) and his fiancee Helen (Bridget McNeeley) are having their own romantic problems when a surprise visit from Helen’s mother (Olivia Hartle) puts a damper on their risque living situation. Running the building is Appopolous, the painter/landlord of questionable origin (Kyle James Hook).
Like any good musical, a happy ending somehow finds its way in when Ruth gets the guy and the job and Eileen realizes that she did not need a man constantly on her arm to succeed. With the help of Appopolous, Helen and Wreck convince Mrs. Wade that their marriage would make them a big and nearly happy family.
The cast and crew had their own happy ending too, surviving complex dances, a temperamental set and endless prop lists. For the largely freshmen cast, this show could have turned them off of theatre or thrown them into it. For veterans of the stage, it was another job well done.
St. John’s “Wonderful Town” was directed by Eric Syndor with musical direction by Jeff Caldwell. They were joined by a dedicated staff and crew who oversaw the work of twenty talented students who helped bring “The New York City Musical” to life.
The closing show on Saturday may be the end of life in “Wonderful Town” but the Little Theatre is home to numerous productions throughout the year. Upcoming events include a rock concert for charity and a cabaret.