Tag Archives: Simon Higlett

The American Dream

Isn’t it lucky that Sir Mark Elder went to New York? If he hadn’t, we might not have had Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town to enjoy, here at the Lowry in another wonderful town.

I could see his left ear, but for the most part I forgot all about Sir Mark, except when I noticed a pair of arms flapping somewhere in front of me, and wondered about it before remembering this was actually a musical with the whole of the Hallé hiding down in the orchestra pit. (Although Daughter sneaked a look down and said it couldn’t be all of them and she didn’t see Roberto Carrillo-García anywhere.) I love it when the serious players play lighter stuff. They do it so well.

That’s why it was easy to forget they were there. Perfection is unobtrusive. And this was perfection. Speedy Valenti had a nerve instructing Sir Mark and his band from up there on the stage…

Wonderful Town by Alastair Muir

What happened on stage was also perfect, but because it happened right in front of me I didn’t miss it. And who would want to miss this? Simon Higlett’s set and costume design must count as one of the most pleasing I have ever seen. Possibly the best ever. New York never looked more New Yorkish, including a natty little elevated train.

And those clothes! The clothes were to die for, and that goes for everyone from leading lady Connie Fisher’s to every last one of the dancers’. It was an interesting – and oh so American – blend of 1930s to 1950s style. The kind we privately aspire to and usually fail to achieve. It was a clever move to have the dancers help Connie and her stage sister Lucy van Gasse dress on stage.

Those dancers are every bit as marvellous as director Braham Murray said they were. Choreographer Andrew Wright even had his dancers conga-ing down the aisles at the Lowry, and as for the Riverdance sequence in jail, well…

Jailors and sailors all fell for Lucy’s beautiful Eileen. Every single male (and I don’t necessarily mean ‘single’) in New York followed Eileen around and having witnessed Michael Xavier try to walk into the ladies toilet at the launch, I know only too well what hit her admirers.

Wonderful Town by Alastair Muir

Michael as Bob Baker was a singing Dan Stevens-lookalike. Somewhat dim when it came to what he really, really thought of Connie’s Ruth, but eventually the penny dropped. There isn’t a tremendous amount of plot here. Two sisters arrive in New York, looking for jobs and maybe fame and fortune. They meet people. At least, Eileen meets people. Men. They make friends. Ruth gets her Bob – and a press card – and Eileen gets a job with Valenti.

Wonderful Town by Alastair Muir

The finale with the sisters wearing the most gorgeous glittery dresses and happy endings for both major and minor characters is perfect.

We need a CD. Possibly even a DVD. (Are you listening at the Lowry, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Hallé?)

Wonderful Mancunians who haven’t yet booked need to do so urgently. People in other wonderful towns must see to their ticket needs for the wonderful tour of Wonderful Town. Who knows when we get to see anything like it again?

I want to go again tomorrow, and maybe next week, too. And if all else fails, I will really need that CD.

A Wonderful Launch

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.

Connie Fisher, Michael Xavier and Lucy van Gasse

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.

Connie Fisher

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.

Michael Xavier

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.

Lucy van Gasse

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.

Connie Fisher, Michael Xavier and Lucy van Gasse

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…