CLOC “Wonderful Town”

August 6, 2011

Photo by Brend Sharp. Ruth dances the Conga with the Naval Cadets.

Sisters Eileen and Ruth leave Columbus, Ohio to seek their fortunes in New York City in Betty Comden and Adolf Green’s “Wonderful Town,” presented by the College Light Opera Company at Highfield Theatre in Falmouth this week. Music is by George Gershwin.

The CLOC production is directed by Michael Scarola, with music direction by Beth Burrier.

Alexa Devlin is wonderful herself as Ruth, the witty, intelligent sister who wants to be writer, but has no luck with men, and Elaine Daiber is sweet Eileen, the beautiful sister, an aspiring actress who charms men without even trying.

It is the summer of 1935 as the play opens. A vibrant James Soller is the tour guide who describes the sights and sounds of quirky Christopher Street in Greenwich Village to an eager group of tourists, introducing us to the main characters along the way. It is a great opening number with lots of activity on both levels of the set, sending the message: “Life is gay, life is sweet, such interesting people life on Christopher Street.”

In one of the nice moments in the show, the crowds of tourists and residents part at the end of the song, revealing the travel-weary sisters, suitcases and typewriter case in hand, ready to take on the town—after a good night’s sleep.

Fortunately, or not, they meet Mr. Appopolous (Kyle Yampiro), a landlord and would-be famous painter, who just happens to have a recently vacated apartment  available. Mr. Yampiro brings warmth and humor to this role.

It is not a perfect apartment by any means. Passersby drop in unannounced and call out to them through the street-level window, and explosions shake the apartment on a regular basis from subway construction down below.

The sisters have second thoughts about coming to New York in their engaging duet: “Why, oh, why, oh why oh, why did I ever leave Ohio?”

Photo by Richard Harbison. Alexa Devlin as Ruth and Elaine Daiber as Eileen regret leaving Ohio.

The sisters display their attraction, or lack of attraction to men in a comical subway scene, in which the sisters separately ride the train. Ruth is ignored, while every man on the train relinquishes his seat for Eileen and ogles her for the rest of the trip.

Although she is too appealing to be convincing as the plain sister (Ms. Devlin lights up the stage whenever she is on it), Ms. Devlin is buoyant and funny in “One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man” and “Swing.” She has some great dance moves in “Conga,” one of the highlights of the show, even as her character is trying to discourage the Brazilian Naval Cadets she is trying to write a story about  from carrying her away in their lively dance.

There is also a great series of scenes in which an editor (Robert Baker, played by Brad Baron) reads the stories that Ruth has submitted while Ms. Devlin and other cast members act them out on the upper level of the stage.

Ms. Daiber does a fine job as Eileen, though we must wait for the second act to see her really interact with men. In “My Darlin’ Eileen,” the Irish police officers (Eileen has been arrested) croon to her, the “fairest colleen that ever I’ve seen,” even as she tells them she is not Irish. Complete with step dancing, this is another high point in the show.

Brad Baron is excellent as the kind-hearted editor who first tells Ruth to go home—a million kids like her come to New York to seek their fortunes—and later stands up for her. His voice is deep and expressive in “What A Waste,” “A Quiet Girl,” and “It’s Love.”

Brian Aker is The Wreck, a former football player living on his wits, and with his fiancée Helen (Edith Grossman). His big number, “Pass the Football,” is delightful.

Brian Shaw is fabulous as Speedy Valenti, who runs a night club and just can’t stop dancing.

The orchestra again does a magnificent job, though it was once or twice too loud for me to comfortably hear the lyrics. The music is jazzy and engaging, often more reflective of the early 1950s (the musical premiered in 1953).

The grand finale: “It’s Love.”

“Wonderful Town” is an upbeat show with some great ensemble numbers. There is one final show, tonight at 8 PM. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased by calling  508-548-0668.

Next week, CLOC presents “On the Twentieth Century,” another Comden and Green collaboration. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, with a Thursday matinee at 2.

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