Patio players present a wonderful, entertaining ‘wonderful town’
By Marilyn Jozwik
Published April 29, 2019
If first impressions count, then let’s say my first impression of Falls Patio Players’ “Wonderful Town” is very good.
The North Middle School Auditorium has its curtains open to reveal a silhouette NYC backdrop contrasted against a rose-colored sky. It’s a marvelous first impression.
But it just keeps getting better. Raised several steps in front of the backdrop is the orchestra platform. To my surprise, 16 musicians filled the space and when Julie Johnson (conductor, piano) raised her arms to begin the Overture, there was a tidal wave of sound – compliments of Leonard Bernstein -- not often heard on a community theater stage.
Needless to say, the show is impressive before an actor even steps foot onstage. And that’s where the fun starts.
The musical, set in 1935 New York City, is based on the play “My Sister Eileen.” The lovely, hummable Bernstein tunes feature lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
The show is about two sisters from Ohio seeking work to showcase their talents – Eileen is an actress, while Ruth is a writer – in the Big Apple. Desperate to find a place to stay, they rent a basement apartment in Greenwich Village that frequently rocks with dynamite blasts from the subway construction and was previously rented to a hooker. Both scenarios create lots of opportunities for humor as do their neighbors, Wreck and Helen, an aging All-American athlete and his girlfriend
The two newscomers, of course, find not only jobs but love as well. Both employment and romance lead to all sorts of hilarious complications, including Ruth’s crush on the Walgreen’s manager, Frank (Travis Ottelien) -- who gives her free lunches -- and Ruth’s involvement with a newspaper editor, Bob (D. Eric Woolweber). Eileen meets slick Chick Clark (Zachary Klahn) on the elevator. Chick insinuates himself in the girls’ lives, which sends Ruth off on assignment to interview some Brazilian navy officers whose only interest is learning the Conga.
It’s sort of a “Thoroughly Modern Millie” meets “Anything Goes,” with lots of dancing, madcap fun and endearing characters.
The show, directed by Bryce Lord, features a trio of outstanding performers, as well as a fine supporting cast. Dana Vetter as Eileen and Wendy Rightler as Ruth are as good as you can get. Vetter adds a professional-quality operatic voice, while Rightler compliments with hearty alto tones and a penchant for comedy. The two demonstrate early on just what a great pair they are in the sweet and lovely “Ohio” with the corny, but lilting, lyrics, “Why, or why, o why-o, why did I leave Ohio?”
Rightler goes on to belt out the crowd-pleasing “One Hundred Easy Ways,” in which she describes her unique ability to repel men, with observations such as, “Throw your knowledge in his face, he’ll never try for second base.” Rightler sells it beautifully, with considerable comic flair.
This is followed by another tune the audience loved, as the show moves to the office of editor Robert Baker, who is joined by associate editors played by Craig Pierce and Glenn DeVoe in the rousing “What a Waste.” Baker leads the trio with his strong vocals and sure-footed moves, which he displayed during the whole show.
Vetter got her chance to show off her soaring voice in “A Quiet Girl” and added some spicy operatic accents to “Conversation Piece.”
Klahn did a nice job with his rakish Chick character while Andrew Knippel handled his macho Wreck well.
The show moves at a fast clip with lively tunes such as the first-act ending “Conga!,” featuring a cadre of cadet dancers camping up the number to great effect.
Act Two speeds along thanks to several numbers showcasing Melissa I Bloch-Meier’s choreography, including the classy “Swing” number, led by Rightler’s Ruth, and the sisters joining in for the “One Note Rag.”
Music director Johnson kept the music at vibrant pace and served as conductor along with trumpeter Matthew Makeever.
Roger Bocheck has a great set design featuring not only the skyline, but good spaces for the apartment’s courtyard, the Village Vortex nightclub, and the jail. His costume choices give snappy good looks to the navy officers and policemen, and some classy period looks for the swing dancers and nightclub scene.
“Wonderful Town” premiered on Broadway in 1953, but the Patio Players version is fresh, full of life and entertaining.
If you go
Who: Falls Patio Players
What: “Wonderful Town”
When: Through May 5
Where: North Middle School Auditorium, N88 W16750 Garfield Drive, Menomonee Falls
Info/Tickets: fallspatioplayers.com; 262-255-8372