From the exuberant overture you know that the London Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Sir Simon Rattle is going to get into the swing for this recording of Leonard Bernstein’s musical Wonderful Town. Written in 1953, three years before West Side Story, it is a light-hearted show with an effervescent score mixing bluesy, jazzy and popular styles, and witty lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. This is a live recording of a concert version (which drops much of the dialogue) which had sold-out performances in December 2017.
The show focusses on two sisters who leave Ohio for the bright lights and broader horizons of New York, where they have various adventures. Broadway performer Alysha Umphress makes a lively Ruth, who wants to be a writer yet is awkward with men. Her droll version of One Hundred Easy Ways is a comic highlight. The other cast members are opera singers, so it has a little less musical theatre sass, but they are all terrific. Danielle de Niese shines a warm soprano and sunny charm on Ruth’s sister Eileen. Nathan Gunn brings his dark baritone to Bob Barker, the man they both fall for, while Duncan Rock scores a goal as the footballer Wreck in Pass the Football.
Embracing the score’s brassy pizzazz and syncopated jazz rhythms, the Orchestra is in irresistible form. You do miss the dialogue and the dance numbers in the instrumental interludes, but the album captures the joyous energy of the live performance.