I couldn’t have planned it if I’d tried. There was a certain magic in finding myself in the Ladies at the Lowry yesterday, having Connie Fisher and Lucy van Gasse singing over the washbasins. Wonderful Town co-star Michael Xavier very nearly followed me and Lucy in there, in which case I could easily have been serenaded by three top singers. Let’s just say I took longer over my business than I usually would have.
As it turned out I needn’t have concerned myself over missing the first launch last February, because Connie had been told to keep quiet for a month (she said that was very hard for her), so didn’t sing. So, there we were, for the second launch of Wonderful Town, the joint venture from the Lowry, the Hallé orchestra with Sir Mark Elder and the Royal Exchange Theatre. This event is now happily much closer, opening on 31st March.
The Leonard Bernstein musical was a lucky find of Mark Elder’s, who suggested it to the other participants after seeing it in New York. That was five years ago, and they have worked towards this moment ever since. Simply a minor thing like booking the Hallé involves waiting two years. For director Braham Murray it was ‘hell on earth’ since putting up a musical is like giving birth. He had to whittle 400 wonderful dancers down to 60 in three days. And by some miracle the main attractions all said yes when asked.
That would be Connie Fisher, Lucy van Gasse and Michael Xavier, who were in Salford to sing to the collected press and prospective major ticket buyers. With the help of pianist James Burton they sang four songs from Wonderful Town, starting with Ohio, and then A Little Bit of Love, 100 Ways (to lose a man) and It’s Love. Apparently it all ends happily, and the beautiful girl does not get her man. The other one does.
As well as these fantastic singers, for the first two weeks the lucky audience at the Lowry will get the full Hallé in the orchestra pit. All 65 of them, and Mark Elder conducting. For the 11 week tour round the country – and the third, recently added, week at the Lowry – there will be an orchestra of 17 with James Burton. (I had been worrying considerably about how the Hallé could possibly take several months to tour, and now I know they can’t. So, for the full works, the Lowry it will have to be.)
After more information on producing Wonderful Town, there was a Q&A session with the three stars. The press was a disgrace, not coming up with any questions at all, whereas the normal audience did just fine. There might be a CD. (Let’s hope there is.) The rehearsals take six weeks, in three different rooms; one for the dancing, one for the acting and one for the singing. For Thursday’s performance the singers had a total of one day to learn songs and lines.
As a reward for their wonderful questions the audience were served afternoon tea, although I gather they were to be held to ransom until they booked tickets from the mobile box office at the back. The press went along to another room for interviews and afternoon tea. The Lowry put on a great spread for us, and once I’d sorted my Earl Grey with coffee (easy mistake to make…) to be Earl Grey without coffee, all was fine. The coffee cake was wonderful, and I chatted up a former almost-neighbour, who was the lucky man getting Connie’s attention in 100 Ways.
The handsome Michael Xavier might be from Knutsford, and he might be your typical romantic lead, but the two ladies were by far the most beautifully dressed. In fact, I did wonder if they talked colour coordination before getting ready that morning? I suppose it’s the sort of thing I should have asked while we were all in the Ladies…