Wonderful Town, The Lowry, Salford

4.00

What, oh what, oh what-o? Great songs, but there's no plot-o

Showbiz legend has it that Leonard Bernstein knocked out the music for Wonderful Town (the second of his three New York shows) in only five weeks. With Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who wrote the lyrics, he locked himself in a room with daylight shut out and walls painted grey. According to Bernstein's biographer Humphrey Burton, the air was so blue with cigarette smoke that they could barely see each other across the room from piano to typewriter.

There is a lot more colour in the show than blue and grey and this revival (the first for 26 years) slaps on the emulsion with a joyously frenetic broad brush. It's a Manchester/Salford collaboration between the Lowry, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Hallé, which is having the time of its life in the pit under music director Sir Mark Elder for another week. (A smaller band takes over for the rest of the Salford run and an 11-week tour.)

The plot isn't up to much: sisters Ruth and Eileen quit Ohio for New York and search for work (and love). Nothing much happens in this Big Apple La Bohème: the girls do things and meet people and sing and dance. Most characters, including a string of men who fancy Eileen, have all the depth of ultra-thin plywood.

So it's no dramatic masterpiece; but Braham Murray, directing what seems to be his last Royal Exchange production, and choreographer Andrew Wright are happy to accept it as it is – a flurry of brilliant sketches. Their staging is hyperactive, at times as explosive as the detonations made by subway engineers beneath the Greenwich Village hovel the sisters share. It's very much an ensemble show and the dancers appear to have more limbs and their singers more breath than the rest of us.

As Eileen and Ruth, Lucy van Gasse and Connie Fisher (who, after her soprano days as Maria, has become a comfortable alto), blend perfectly in "Ohio", a number that insinuates itself into your ear at a lazy horse-walk pace and won't come out. Van Gasse renders "A Little Bit in Love" with the right kind of virginal dreaminess, but Fisher gets all the best tunes, whether listing a hundred ways to lose a man or cavorting in a blowzy conga with a flotilla of Brazilian sailors.

The plywood men do their best with some apt cameos; Nic Greenshields (Wreck) and Michael Xavier (Bob Baker) both stand out, the former because he is 7ft tall, the latter because he sings "A Quiet Girl" with such affecting authority.

But the real glory is in the pit. From the first trumpet entry of the overture, you know that the 67 Hallé players (including five saxophonists) are having fun; they have slid easily from their more usual Mahler schmaltz to Bernstein sleaze and play with zip, verve and virtuosic panache.

Elder, with all his experience of opera, is in total command, letting the good tunes breathe and relishing Bernstein's bent rhythms in "Wrong Note Rag" and the Oirishry of "My Darlin' Eileen" (whose capering cops attempt to steal the show). You can also hear things to come: "Conga" and "Swing" anticipate the dance in the gym and the rumble in West Side Story. So grab a ticket while the Hallé is still in residence. And now can I please stop singing "Why, Oh Why, Oh Why-o, Did I Ever Leave Ohio?"?

Continues at The Lowry (0843 208 6005) till Sat, then touring

Theatre choice

Last chance to see two powerful plays. At the Duchess, London, Lee Hall's moving and illuminating The Pitmen Painters, in a National Theatre production,tells the true story of the self-improving Ashington Group of painters. At Southwark Playhouse, Philip Ridley's Shivered is the unflinching story of jihadist execution. Both close on Saturday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis