Wonderful Town, Grange Park Opera, Near Winchester

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There's a street map of Lower Manhattan on the front curtain, but we can be more specific than that - Christopher Street, Greenwich Village - and as the overture strikes up it's the timeless spirit and wacky incongruity of the place that flips the director and designer Antony McDonald into instant overdrive.

Ballet dancers strike poses totally at odds with Bernstein's swingtime score; beatniks and leather boys rub shoulders across decades of social defiance; gay's the word, and we're not talking tourist attire. We're a long way from Columbus, Ohio.

And rural Hampshire. Grange Park Opera again tackle an American musical as part of their summer season - and again their good intentions (that this is repertoire we should take seriously) fall short. The band is great, the style (under Richard Balcombe) is on the money, the energy is all there. But why is it that we Brits can never get the pacing right? If there's one thing Broadway musicals need, it's timing. The dialogue needs to go lickety-split. You can't afford to catch your breath in a show like this.

McDonald is a more inventive designer than he is a director. His witty set uses the idea that in New York City, the only way to look is up. He can be surreally emblematic: a giant cockroach characterises Ruth and Eileen's squalid apartment, and a big apple (literally) swivels to reveal the maggot in its core.

But these shows need verbal wit more than visual wit. They need precision, too. The big Act I one finale - "Conga!" - was frankly a mess. Philippe Giradeau's choreography looked and felt random.

The cast? In some respects it tried too hard for too little. Mary King in the Rosalind Russell role of Ruth Sherwood, the hard-bitten writer, wanted laughs so much she almost didn't get them. Her fail-safe number "100 Easy Ways" (to lose a man) was played like she'd gone over every funny line with a highlighter. This stuff should be effortless.

Sophie Daneman as Eileen Sherwood sang effortlessly, charmingly, and with a fine sense of the style, but I'm not sure the Marilyn Monroe allusion helped.

What we needed more of was the kind of authenticity Derek Hagen found for the role of the clean-cut, poleaxingly boring drugstore manager Frank Lippencott - or, better yet, the suave assurance Graham Bickley brought to Bob Baker and his big number, "A Quiet Girl".

Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote their delicious score in five weeks flat. It's this urgency and firecracking vitality they need to find down at Grange Park.

To Weds June 30 (01962 868600)

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