To those of us who grew up in the Midwest in the 1950s, New York City seemed like Oz—a fantastical potpourri of bustling streets, gleaming skyscrapers and millions of people of every shape and description, all of whom had come to the city to chase their dreams. And in New York, all of those dreams seemed possible—the city’s jumble and sprawl offering a seemingly infinite number of opportunities for success, for excitement and for romance. At the center of it all was Greenwich Village, that downtown hotbed of free thinking, unconventional living and true creativity. As its name suggested, the Village in those days seemed to be a small town surrounded by the city—a home for modern dancers, abstract artists, avant-garde writers and iconoclasts of every stripe.
Although the realities of the city may have been somewhat more brutal than this warmhearted view, they didn’t faze the thousands of young people who each year migrated to New York—or Chicago, Los Angeles or Seattle for that matter—to find their own destinies. And no work of the American theater pays as bright and lively homage to this essential trope than Wonderful Town. Based on Ruth McKinney’s comic stories of her own move (with her sister Eileen) from the quiet haven of small-town Ohio to the exotic environs of Christopher Street, Wonderful Town perfectly captures the naïve expectations, unexpected pitfalls and ultimate joys of the journey from Midwestern innocence to urban experience. Replete with the snappy patter of playwrights Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov, the show boasts one of the most evocative scores of the golden era of American musicals, created by the inimitable Leonard Bernstein in tandem with those masters of the lyricist’s art, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Nearly 70 years after its Broadway premiere, Wonderful Town remains a vibrant panorama of New York at its nostalgic best—not as it actually was, perhaps, but as we all wanted it to be. It is a perfect vehicle for the considerable skills of Manilow Resident Director Mary Zimmerman, whose most striking works for the stage (including her memorable staging of Bernstein’s Candide) center on the journey from the familiar to the exciting, unknowable future. Together with a dream team of design and musical collaborators, and armed with a formidable cast and a 17-piece orchestra, Mary has created an infectious, hilarious and exhilarating production that celebrates the journeys we’ve all taken as we move from the dreams of our youth into the exciting possibilities of our adulthood.
Wonderful Town is a fitting introduction to our 2016/2017 Essential Season, an uncommonly varied line-up of new plays and classic works which explore in unexpected ways some of the classic themes of the theater: the search for identity in a complex world, the struggles to come to grips with a rapidly changing society, the tensions between our cherished dreams and the realities which threaten them. In its own exuberant way, Wonderful Town touches on all of these age-old questions—and celebrates the uniquely expressive pleasures of the theater itself.