The Broadway cast recording of the 2003 revival of Wonderful Town is a hit-and-miss affair which must await another go-around to do justice to all of Bernstein’s rhythmic treats, traps and trills to better deliver Betty Comden’s and Adolph Green’s hilariously “sounderful” lyrics as intended.
As with the Shaw Festival’s current production (cross-reference below), the musical leadership needs to ratchet up a notch.; Too frequently for comfort, the chorus (notably in “Christopher Street” where “Life is gay …”) lacks unanimity with the consonants: very “untogether.” “Ohio” has a terrific Western feel in the accompaniment, Donna Murphy slightly overpowers Jennifer Westfeldt (playing the Sherwood sisters: Ruth and Eileen, respectively), but the triple side of the rhythm defeats everyone. Starting off with Brahms’ string writing that could have veered off into the master’s Clarinet Quintet, the 3:2 relationships challenge any musician (keeping in mind that there are really only two “flavours” of rhythm: duple and triple)—conductor Rob Fisher doesn’t press his talented charges hard enough.
The other disappointment comes from the ever-so-tastily written (both music and words) “Wrong Note Rag.” The tempo’s a bit of a drag and the ensemble’s a nickel short of “clean fine” precision and verve. The syncopation must ride the beat rather than try to keep up with it. Once more from the top, please.
On the plus side, Wreck’s “Pass the Football” (Raymond Jaramillo McLeod has a great character voice and is perfectly supported by the band’s snap, crackle and pop: notably the brass and their “Sousastein” march off), Robert Baker’s “A Quiet Girl” (the run up for “Maria” is well shaped by Greg Edelman) and “It’s Love” (Westfeldt overcomes her previous scratchiness on initial vowels in “A Little Bit of Love” and Edelman nails the big finish with gusto) make this an album worth owning.
Yet this is Ruth’s show and Murphy is more than up to the challenge: “One Hundred Easy Ways” employs almost as many voices (er, hello there Satchmo) in this hilarious “how not to” advice for the lovelorn); “Conga” sizzles from stem to stern (replete with Brazilian sailors) and the “Finale” brings everything home with a rousing flourish.
But don’t miss the pair of bonus tracks. What fun it is to hear the fabled lyricists sing their own work (recorded in 1953). They inject feeling and passion that more than makes up for any shortcomings on the vocal side; the brushes and double bass are superb. JWR