Wonderful Town tells the hilarious and heartwarming story of two sisters, Ruth and Eileen Sherwood. Set in 1935, Ruth, a no-nonsense writer, and Eileen, an aspiring actress and dancer, leave rural Ohio to seek success in New York City. After settling into their Greenwich Village basement apartment, the Sherwood sisters encounter a motley crew of colorful characters, as they set out to pursue their dreams and conquer “The Big Apple.”
Based on Ruth McKenney’s book My Sister Eileen, which later became a hit play and film, Wonderful Town opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1953, starring Rosalind Russell as Ruth and Edith Adams as Eileen. This Tony Award-winning Best Musical features a book written by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and music by Leonard Bernstein. The Wonderful Town score includes such memorable songs as “Ohio,” “Conga,” and “One Hundred Easy Ways.”
IU’s production of Wonderful Town is directed by Richard Roland, head of the B.F.A. Musical Theatre program. “At first glance, many find it easy to categorize Wonderful Town as a quaint golden oldie, but there are many elements of the Bernstein musical that resonate today,” says Roland. “It’s about two sisters who courageously push back against a gender-biased culture. Neither woman takes no for an answer, and they insist on being heard by the men they encounter. What’s remarkably forward-thinking about this mid-golden age musical is that the love story doesn’t rely on the expected heteronormative relationship. Yes, both sisters encounter a certain amount of boyfriend attention, but the real love story is between the two of them, and how their relationship is the strongest bond they have in life. Think of Ruth and Eileen as the prototype for Elsa and Anna [from Disney’s Frozen]!”
Ruth McKenney was an American author and journalist. My Sister Eileen is her personal memoir, about growing up in Ohio and moving to Greenwich Village. Originally published as a series of short stories in The New Yorker, My Sister Eileen was published as a book in 1938. McKenney also wrote 1939’s Industrial Valley, a then-controversial book about the Akron rubber workers strike, and the 1943 best-selling novel Jake Home, which recounted the struggles of everyday Americans in the first half of the 20th century.
Leonard Bernstein was perhaps the most influential figure in classical music in the last half of the 20th century. A composer, conductor, author, and lecturer, he had a dramatic impact on American audiences’ appreciation of classical music. He also contributed substantially to American musical theatre. He collaborated with Betty Comden and Adolph Green in On the Town and Wonderful Town, Richard Wilbur and Lillian Hellman on Candide, and in 1957 he worked with Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents on the landmark musical West Side Story.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green are one of the most successful writing teams in the history of the American musical theatre. Their sixty-year collaboration produced more than twenty stage musicals and a dozen movies. They first teamed up for a night-club act called “The Revuers,” which also featured Leonard Bernstein as a regular accompanist. Their work with Bernstein led to collaborations for On the Town and Wonderful Town. Their list of Broadway hits includes Bells Are Ringing, Applause, Lorelei, and On the Twentieth Century. Their Hollywood credits include adaptations of On the Town, Bells Are Ringing, Auntie Mame, and original screenplays for Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon.
Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov were frequent collaborators. Their big Broadway break came with their play My Sister Eileen, based on Ruth McKenney’s book. They also wrote the 1942 screenplay. Other shows by Fields and Chodorov include Junior Miss, The French Touch, The Girl in Pink Tights, Anniversary Waltz, and The Ponder Heart.
Joining Richard Roland on the creative team are Musical Director Terry LaBolt, and Choreographer DJ Gray; along with MFA students Jeremy Smith (Scenic Designer), Justin Michael Gannaway (Costume Designer), Qi'er Luo (Lighting Designer), and Jared O’Brien (Sound Designer).