Wonderful Town is the kind of feel-good musical that I thought was gone forever — that is, until Thoroughly Modern Millie came along a couple of years ago. Both share a similar premise: midwestern yokels come to New York to find their fortunes. Town and Millie, written half-a-century apart, appeal to the post-9/11 Broadway audience that wants to be sent home smiling.
Enjoying its first revival, Wonderful Town is bouncing along nicely at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (the former Martin Beck, on W. 45th St, just west of 8th Avenue). Our matinee performance was full, but the weekly stats on playbill.com show that it’s grossing only about half of capacity, so the show might not make it past the summer. That would be too bad. Wonderful Town offers some of the best fun I’ve had on Broadway in a long time.
The slender plot concerns sisters Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, who’ve come to New York from Ohio. Eileen wants to break in as an actress, Ruth as a writer. Eileen captivates every man she meets, while Ruth laments that there are “One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man.” They rent a studio apartment in Christopher Street, sharing the neighborhood with a motley crew of colorful supporting characters.
The songs are by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. For a show with such distinguished pedigree, it’s surprising there’s no certifiable hit among the bunch, but they’re all a bucket-load of fun. Many of the shows of this era haven’t worn well, but Wonderful Town still seems fresh. Give it a try, while you still can.