Goodman Theatre’s vibrant production of Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town recounts a tale as old as time: two sisters migrate from the countryside to the big city in the hopes of becoming stars. What follows are a series of hijinks and love triangles riddled with the underlying message that together, we can do anything. Renowned director Mary Zimmerman does a terrific job at transforming this coming-of-age story into a delightful production.
The two Sherwood sisters, Ruth (Bri Sudia) and Eileen (Lauren Molina), hit the town with big dreams and even bigger plans. Wonderful Town stars Ruth, a big-boned brunette who is constantly reminded by others of her sister’s beauty. Eileen,the petite blonde who captures the heart and attention of anyone she encounters. I was slightly disheartened to see these common stereotypes play out during the show and would have preferred to see a less clichéd casting choice. However, both Sudia and Molina used these unoriginal physical roles to their advantage and were able to showcase their talents. Sudia deftly portrayed Ruth as full of angst, frustration, and the determination of a girl willing to reach her goals.
Ruth embarks on her journey to become a published writer when she meets Robert Baker (Karl Hamilton), a publisher who believes in her work, and is willing to help. Hamilton plays the role of the cynical slightly dejected publisher, and even gets to show off the best of his singing skills in the second act. Eileen takes a slightly different path as she tries to become a famous singer. Instead, she meets her own set of love-stricken puppies all which can’t wait to be the one she calls her own. Molina shines with her nearly flawless portrayal of a naïve yet glee-loving gal. Frank Lippencott (Wade Elkins) is one of Eileen’s quirkiest conquests. Frank’s ever so-important job at the drugstore provides for great quick interactions showcasing what is best and greatest at the counter that day. Wonderful Town delves into more shenanigans with legal woes, impersonations and big breaks.
While these characters carry the majority of the show, the wildly talented ensemble truly ties the piece together. The choreography by Chicago native Alex Sanchez succeeds in blending a variety of eclectic and classical dance styles. Sanchez’s choreography is highlighted by the stunning costume design (Ana Kuzmanic). The vivid colors, patterns and shapes utilized by Kuzmanic not only beautifully capture the story, but also stay true to the style of the 1950s.
Apart from the actors, I have to say my favorite part of this musical was its unique and imaginative set designed by Todd Rosenthal. At various times during the show, the audience would actually be laughing at the props and sets used by the cast. From sets rising from the floor, to the detail in every backdrop, it was clear that Rosenthal’s intent was to keep audiences constantly engaged. With Zimmerman’s direction, alongside the musical direction of Doug Peck, Wonderful Town proves to be a great night out.
If you’re looking for a date night of high-caliber theater, I recommend swinging over to the Goodman Theatre.
Wonderful Town has been extended until October 23 with tickets priced at $25-$107. Performances are Tuesday-Sunday at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes, with one intermission.