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Wonderful Town (11/23/2003 - 01/30/2005)


AP: "Wonderful Town a Buoyant Revival"

It's practically a lost art these days on Broadway. We're talking honest-to-goodness musical comedy: the marriage of music and mirth, an artful blend of laughter and song.

But arriving just in time to cheer us during this doleful fall season is a buoyant revival of "Wonderful Town," the Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green musical.

This production, which opened Sunday at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, may be old-fashioned, but it's not stuck in the mud. How could it be, what with Bernstein's brash, breezy music, melodies that delightfully move from swing to jazz to Latin to Irish folk to wistful ballads. And then there are those witty Comden and Green lyrics, which may suffer a bit from a loss of topicality but still are models of literate rhyme.

"Wonderful Town' was born in 1953 as a vehicle for the considerable talents of movie star Rosalind Russell. Fifty years later, it is a vehicle for the equally gifted Donna Murphy, a two-time Tony Award winner who could pick up a third next June for her sassy, snappy work here.

Murphy portrays Ruth Sherwood, one of two sisters from Columbus, Ohio, who arrive in 1930s New York to make it big - Ruth as a writer and her younger sibling, Eileen, as an actress. Ruth is smart, pragmatic and sharp-tongued; Eileen is pretty and disarming. Guess which one always gets her man?

The musical's episodic book by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov, adapted from their hit play "My Sister Eileen," has been tweaked by playwright David Ives. Yet the jokes are still plentiful, and the cast knows its way around every laugh line.

Watch Murphy work through the ditty "One Hundred Easy Ways (To Lose a Man)" and you'll know what impeccable comic timing is. The actress would have been perfect in those screwball film comedies of the 1930s. Her effortless delivery is dry, sardonic and hilarious.  Jennifer Westfeldt makes an appealing, sweet-tempered Eileen, and she finds the humor in this lovely lass, one who matter-of-factly accepts the adulation of every man in sight.

The two sisters find refuge in an idealized Greenwich Village, a bohemian never-never land where poets, painters, actors and writers coexist with cranky, if lovable landlords, eccentric neighbors, hardworking ladies of the night and helpful policemen, who are all Irish, of course.

In 2000, director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall oversaw an earlier edition of "Wonderful Town" at City Center's "Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert." Murphy also starred in that production.

So did a spiffy, onstage orchestra conducted by Rob Fisher, who is on the podium here, too. And the orchestra is onstage again at the Hirschfeld, 24 musicians who more than do justice to Bernstein's great music. They sit at the back of the playing area, which means all the action occurs right down front.

That's not as confining as it might seem, thanks to Marshall's astute direction. Designer John Lee Beatty drops in skeleton flats that suggest, among other things, the sisters' basement apartment, the sidewalk of fabled Christopher Street, a police station and a Village night spot.

Marshall's choreography is as lively as the score, especially her work for a riotous conga number, a jazzy ballet at the Village Vortex and the hijinks that spark the show's zesty finale, "The Wrong Note Rag."

The director has cast the smaller roles with care. Gregg Edelman is a strong-voiced suitor for Ruth, while there are fine comic turns by Peter Benson as a giddy drugstore soda jerk, Michael McGrath as a  pugnacious newspaper reporter, David Margulies as that opportunistic landlord and Raymond Jaramillo McLeod as a would-be football player stranded out of season.

There is an innocence about "Wonderful Town," which, at its core, celebrates those newcomers trying to find their way in a tough New York. But it's an innocence born of affection - and crafted with such skill that this "Wonderful Town" is impossible to resist.


New York Daily News: "Wonderful 'Wonderful'!"

It seems fitting that the first show to open in the recently renamed Al Hirschfeld Theater should be a revival of the 1953 Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green "Wonderful Town," a musical version of "My Sister Eileen," the story of two girls from Ohio who conquer Manhattan.

For the muse of Comden and Green has much in common with that of Hirschfeld, a selection of whose work is displayed in a balcony gallery.

The Hirschfeld line is nimble, soaring and intensely resilient. So are Comden and Green's lyrics, from the witty "advice" of "100 Easy Ways to Lose A Man" to the simple grace of "A Little Bit in Love."

Their work harnesses the magical vibrancy that radiates from Manhattan bedrock, which gives the city its limitless energy.

Moreover, this was the last time their friend and collaborator Bernstein wrote an unself-conscious pop score, and it overflows with great melody.

This revival is based on the 2000 City Center Encores! concert presentation, with the 24-piece (what a luxury!) onstage band conducted by the invaluable Rob Fisher.

This production is more elaborate than it was there. John Lee Beatty has found simple, droll but elegant ways to conjure up '30s New York. Costume designer Martin Pakledinaz has done wonders with Depression silhouettes in a reddish-brown palette.

The real glory of this revival, of course, is its cast, led by the fabulous Donna Murphy as Ruth. She projects every nuance in the score with comic pungency. Also, she has a powerful musicality Rosalind Russell, for whom the role was written, did not.

Jennifer Westfeldt (who starred in and co-wrote "Kissing Jessica Stern") makes a beguiling Broadway debut as Eileen. Gregg Edelmann is deeply appealing as the editor who falls for Ruth. Their final clinch is, given the zaniness of what precedes it, remarkably touching.

Among the other standouts are Peter Benson as a lovestruck soda jerk, Stanley Wayne Mathis as a jazz baby and David Margulies as a Village bohemian.

Kathleen Marshall's inventive choreography and direction perfectly convey the infectious spirits of this eternally fresh show.

New York Daily News

New York Post: "Wonderful!"

This morning - and good few more mornings to come - Broadway belongs to Donna Murphy.

She has the keys to the kingdom, and a season that was beginning look unutterably gloomy, has suddenly and mysteriously brightened. Broadway lives, and once more it's a wonderful town.

Which reminds me, before I get too dizzy over Murphy's lore, it was in the sizzling revival of "Wonderful Town," which opened at the newly named Al Hirchsfeld Theatre (the ex-Martin Beck) last night, that glorious Murphy made her mark.

What a musical this is! Leonard Bernstein's score wears its 50 years with no sense of middle-age spread but with a lightness like springtime.

Bernstein's sheer musical virtuosity of melody and rhythm is consistently amusing when it's not enchanting, and enchanting when it's not amusing. And often it's both.

The story of "Wonderful Town" is sweetly trivial but perfectly styled and paced for a musical book. Two girls, one an aspiring actress, the other her less obviously attractive elder sister, a writer, have come to the Big City from Columbus, Ohio, to find their fortune and possibly men.

OK, so it's not "War and Peace." But it works. And what works better are the dazzlingly fluent and witty lyrics, the epitome of the Thirties, by Betty Comden and Adolph Green that go with the Bernstein music like a bride goes with a groom.

Now for a little bad news. The producers have based the production on the City Center "Encores!" version of three years ago, although the only cast member carried forward is Murphy, together with Kathleen Marshall's vivid staging and choreography.

The crazy thing is that the producers have not rethought the concept - so, as with all "Encores!" presentations, the orchestra (and a wonderful orchestra it is) is up onstage, which too often leaves the impression of a very elaborate concert staging.

Yes, I know, it was left up for "Chicago" - the only other Broadway transfer from "Encores!" - but there it was fine, for the orchestra was onstage in Bob Fosse's original production.

Here the actors seem to be performing on a large shelf. But the brilliant Marshall, Murphy and entire cast triumph so completely in these peculiar circumstances that in the end you forget the space and just thrill to the work.

It's a perfectly lovely cast. Jennifer Westfeldt (from "Kissing Jessica Stein") is a delight as that innocent, man-eating sister Eileen, and Gregg Edelman, strong-voiced and deliciously heart-dumb, scores beautifully as the guy who wakes up to find himself in love.

But it was a show - forget Rosalind Russell - that must, by some clairvoyance, have been written with Donna Murphy in mind. She sings, she dances a mean conga with the Brazilian navy, no less, and she makes even the lines that aren't funny seem uproarious, and those that are . . .

Her wit is so dry that if it were a martini it would the gin-soaked lemon-twist at the bottom of an emptied glass.

New York Post

New York Times: "Sis, Today the Village, Tomorrow the World"

On your knees, citizens of Broadway. A superwoman walks among you. Having established herself as the first lady of musical tragedy -- with Tony-winning performances in Stephen Sondheim's ''Passion'' and a somber ''King and I'' -- Donna Murphy has now crossed to the sunny side of the street. She makes it very clear, thank you, that this, too, is unconditionally her turf.

At last a little happiness in a neighborhood that was starting to look like the Great Dark Way. In the revival of Leonard Bernstein's ''Wonderful Town,'' which opened last night at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, Ms. Murphy is giving one of the most dazzlingly accomplished comic performances that you're ever likely to see in a musical. The show opens on the heels of its star's widely chronicled bout with the flu, which caused the cancellation of several preview performances and prompted speculation that ''Wonderful Town'' might turn out to be yet another casualty in a season strewn with the corpses of failed productions.

Well, it's as if Ms. Murphy had spent those lost days in a spa instead of a sick bed. As the fledgling writer Ruth Sherwood, the role that Rosalind Russell slayed 'em with when ''Town'' opened in 1953, Ms. Murphy blithely juggles a wide assortment of gleaming styles and techniques without ever breaking character.

True, much of the rest of Kathleen Marshall's staging of this tale of dewy sisters from Ohio determined to conquer Manhattan isn't up to Ms. Murphy's standard. But then what would be? Though otherwise perfectly amiable, the show -- which began as an acclaimed Encores! concert version at City Center three years ago, also directed by Ms. Marshall and starring Ms. Murphy -- turns ecstatic only when Ruth is onstage. Fortunately she is onstage a lot.

Unlike the revival of ''Chicago,'' which also leaped from Encores! to Broadway, where it continues to run, ''Wonderful Town'' isn't an obvious candidate for the minimalist approach. The satirical ''Chicago,'' which presents all the world as a burlesque house, benefits from a pared-down style that places the orchestra center stage. ''Wonderful Town,'' a saucy but sweet evocation of Depression-era Manhattan, would seem to cry out for a more fully fleshed, naturalistic production that revels in period detail. ''Chicago'' celebrates showbiz; ''Wonderful Town'' celebrates New York.

While the superb orchestra, which gives glittering life to Bernstein's ebullient score under the direction of Rob Fisher, is Ms. Murphy's true co-star here, its conspicuous visibility is hard to justify. The action is forced, concert-style, to the front of the stage. The skyline-patterned backdrop and transparent scrims designed by John Lee Beatty don't keep the show from looking oddly provisional, as if waiting for the real sets to arrive. An unfinished quality also emanates from some of Ms. Marshall's dance numbers and the ensemble as a whole, though Jennifer Westfeldt makes a charming Broadway debut as Eileen, Ruth's boy-magnet of a sister.

Yet even with dead spots, this ''Wonderful Town'' captivates in ways achieved by no other new production this fall. For one thing, there's something irresistible about the show's starry-eyed vision of New York. It's the most lighthearted of Bernstein's three big Manhattan musicals (the others are ''On the Town'' and ''West Side Story''), and it artfully melds urban jitters and jive (''Swing,'' ''Conquering New York'') with a wistful, melodic romanticism (''Ohio,'' ''A Little Bit in Love'').

Betty Comden and Adolph Green's lyrics percolate with the show-off spunk you associate with being brash, bright and eager to impress. The wisecracking book by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov (based on their play ''My Sister Eileen,'' which was adapted from stories by Ruth McKenney and filmed with Russell in 1942) bubbles with both vintage wit and a callow optimism.

Some of the references (Major Bowes, anyone?) fly over the heads of contemporary audiences. But there's nothing stale about the show's giddy infatuation with a city. As the more wryly affectionate new musical ''Avenue Q'' demonstrates, the young and ambitious are still willing to rough it for a chance at success in New York City. Manhattan has never looked as innocent as it does in ''Wonderful Town,'' a show in which even hookers and muggers are cute. But it's the gaze of undiluted love that makes it appear that way.

The opening number, ''Christopher Street,'' which presents Greenwich Village as a happy-go-lucky bohemia, captures this attitude most promisingly, as tourists and residents face off in a ballet of voyeurs and poseurs, clad in Martin Pakledinaz's Crayola-colored costumes. Among the locals are the ''lovable landlord of Christopher Street'' (David Margulies), a wacky painter with a thick Greek accent, and an out-of-work football player (the likable Raymond Jaramillo McLeod) and his live-in girlfriend (Nancy Anderson). Such is the world among which Ruth and Eileen, fresh from Columbus, must find their places.

This comes more easily to Eileen, who in Ms. Westfeldt's delightfully un-self-conscious interpretation suggests a virginal answer to the Vargas pinup girls. She has men ranging from a fresh-faced soda jerk (Peter Bensen) to a hard-bitten newspaper reporter (Michael McGrath) lining up to do her bidding, a situation that reaches a giddy, deliciously executed climax among a coterie of ''Riverdance''-style hoofing policemen.

Ruth's relationship with New York is more fraught, as she hustles her short stories and spars with a handsome magazine editor named Robert Baker (the appealing but slightly-lost-looking Gregg Edelman). This allows Ms. Murphy both to incarnate the heroines of Ruth's imitative fiction, inspired by the likes of Hemingway and S. N. Behrman, and to send up all the dithery but sexually successful gals that she is not.

That's the subject of Ruth's first solo, ''One Hundred Easy Ways,'' the moment when you realize just how polished and diverse Ms. Murphy's skills are and how much she has further refined them since her performance at City Center. Ms. Murphy has that rare knack for capturing a period style -- in this case, of the sardonic, self-deprecating dame of screwball comedy -- without the use of distancing quotation marks. (That's reserved for Ruth's priceless parodies of other women.) She delivers even moss-covered witticisms as if she had invented them on the spot.

But it's how Ruth is seduced into the joys of metropolitan life that sends this ''Town'' into orbit. Watch her as she shifts from tentativeness and alarm to a what-the-hell spirit of acceptance in two terrific showstoppers. You would think it impossible for Ms. Murphy to top the number in which Ruth, sent to interview a fleet of Brazilian sailors, becomes the deliriously athletic leader of a conga line.

But top it she does in the second act, when Ruth is taught by a chorus of cool downtowners how to speak the language of jazz. At first she's stilted and fatally lacking in rhythm. But by magical degrees, her body becomes supple and her uptight alto shades into a Louis Armstrong rasp.

Suddenly plain old Ruth from Ohio is the heppest, sexiest cat in Greenwich Village. And no matter how long you've lived in New York City, you start to see it with the eyes of a new arrival who believes anything is possible here. Ms. Murphy puts the essential wonder in ''Wonderful Town.'' In falling in love with her, you fall in love with Manhattan all over again.

New York Times

Newsday: "Wonderful Town"

Talk about great comic timing. Just when it seemed that all the commercial musicals in this busy beast of a season were going to be, at best, mixed blessings, along comes "Wonderful Town" - a big wet kiss for old-time Broadway, dreamboat Manhattan and high-style screwball musical comedy.

The 1953 show, which opened under the hype radar last night at the admirably renamed Al Hirschfeld Theatre, has been almost completely recast since Kathleen Marshall's smash semi-staged weekend at City Center's Encores! series in 2000. But fear not. The revival still has its major attraction, the smart, almost shockingly lovable star turn by Donna Murphy. Aside from some discreetly handsome scenic expansion, the production is essentially the same delight from the witty, goofy, grown-up heyday of Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

This trajectory to Broadway is much the same as the one taken by "Chicago," which, believe it or not, was hardly considered a sure thing in the now-celebrated minimal style. Still, a stripped-down "Wonderful Town" will always be a harder Broadway sell than "Chicago," which, for starters, was charged with the satirical, erotic brilliance of Bob Fosse. "Wonderful Town" has its own gentle sort of razzle-dazzle, but the Joseph Fields-Jerome Chodorov adaptation of their "My Sister Eileen" frolics in a far more gentle, ever-optimistic comer of the American psyche.

Any concerns about a Broadway transfer, however, almost disappear with the first brassy, elevated show-biz sounds of Bernstein's overture, conducted by the musical moral force of Encores!' Rob Fisher. Contrary to all laws of Broadway cynicism, the onstage orchestra employs more than the minimum number of musicians required for this theater after last spring's strike.

Then, concerns about a reduced Encores! setting and shallow stage are forgotten with the lowering of John Lee Beatty's copper-filigree outlines of a Greenwich Village street. Somehow, Beatty ingeniously encompasses all the city's romance and downtown grunge with the simple addition of a flowerpot in the suggestion of a window or a bit of skyline beyond the basement apartment. Peter Kaczorowski's elegant lights make poverty seem glamorous.

This is, of course, bohemian poverty we are talking about here - the 1935, but timeless, story of every young hopeful who comes to New York to find the cultural equivalent of Oz. Murphy plays Ruth Sherwood, a struggling writer who arrives with her sister Eileen, a struggling actress. They come, famously, from Ohio - as in "Why, oh why, oh why, oh/Why did I ever leave Ohio?" - set to the sort of home-on-the-range western tune that Bernstein amusingly considered Midwest.

The breakthrough in all this is Murphy, who won her Tony Awards for playing serious drama queens in "Passion" and "The King and I." Here she seems to be channeling both Jimmy Durante and Rosalind Russell, as the too-smart sister who knows "One Hundred Easy Ways" to lose a man. Everyone knew Murphy could sing, but nobody knew about her fast-talking, self-deprecating '30s way with a punchline, her mastery of physical comedy, her quick-change personalities - not to mention her ability to toss her fearless self into a conga line, or sound like Louis Armstrong in "Swing." Not incidentally, she wears the little white gloves and pencil-skirt suits - keenly observed by designer Martin Pakledinaz - as if born to wear them.

Jennifer Westfeldt, who wrote and starred in the movie "Kissing Jessica Stein," has a lovely mock-operetta voice and just the right unassuming sense of entitlement as Eileen, even if she doesn’t quite have the dazzling beauty that defines the guy-magnet sister. Gregg Edelman is charmingly offhand as the editor who appreciates more than Ruth's writing style, Raymond Jaramilla McLeod is terrific as the big lug and unemployed football star and Nancy Anderson is just slutty enough as his live-in love. Michael McGrath is suitably slick as the libidinous reporter and David Margulies is both paternal and a hustler as the landlord - who, like everyone else in the Village, thinks he is an artist.

Marshall directs with a light touch and a cheerful sense of humor. Her choreography - including a Martha Graham spoof for the would-be dancers, "Riverdance" steps for the Irish cops - knows the difference between a Broadway cartoon and serious fun.


USA Today: "New 'Wonderful Town' could use more froth"

Sometimes it's tough to carry a feather.

As the wispiest of Leonard Bernstein's musicals, Wonderful Town has always required an artfully light touch. Kathleen Marshall, who directed and choreographed the revival (**1/2 out of four), which opened Sunday at Broadway's Al Hirschfeld Theatre, seems at first to understand this. The opening number, Christopher Street, Bernstein and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green's sprightly paean to Greenwich Village, has a blithe, breezy quality that bodes well for the production.

During the next few scenes, though, it becomes obvious that this Town isn't as fun a place as we might have hoped. Its denizens seem to plod along, going through the motions dictated by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov's thin, dated book. Toward the end of the first act, when several characters to attend an awkward, unsuccessful dinner party, their boredom rings a little too true.

Only one cast member proves willing and able to keep this delicate ship afloat. Luckily, she's the star, Donna Murphy, whose redeeming wit and vivacity are all the more miraculous given her recent bout with the flu. As Ruth Sherwood, one of two sisters from Ohio who come to the Big Apple to chase their dreams, Murphy delivers a sharp, nuanced performance that is true to the period (New York in 1935) without descending into campy overkill.

Co-star Jennifer Westfeldt, best known for co-writing and starring in the acclaimed film Kissing Jessica Stein, doesn't fare as well as Ruth's pretty blond sister, Eileen. Though she looks lovely, Westfeldt speaks all her lines in a mannered, monotonous singsong and flits across the stage like a caricature of an old-fashioned ingénue. You half expect her to cup her hands together and fix you with a doe-eyed stare, à la Sarah Brightman.

As Robert Baker, the handsome editor who entices both Ruth and Eileen, Gregg Edelman, so winning in the recent Into the Woods revival, seems conspicuously unenthused. Peter Benson is at least endearing as a young man stuck on Eileen, but David Margulies and Raymond Jaramillo McLeod succumb to the stereotypes prescribed by their roles as, respectively, a shifty but hapless landlord and a dumb but lovable lug.

To Marshall's credit, the production numbers look taut and shiny, and music director and vocal arranger Rob Fisher duly serves the jazz flourishes in tunes such as Swing and Wrong Note Rag. John Lee Beatty's scenic design and Martin Pakledinaz's costumes are similarly sleek and stylish.

Still, for a brisk little joyride, Wonderful Town can be pretty heavy going.

USA Today

Variety: "Wonderful Town"

The Broadway season has smothered more than a few glittering performers in shrouds of mediocre material, so it's a real joy to find a gem of a performance shining in its proper setting, a gold-plated show. Returning to a role that she triumphed in, all too briefly, three years ago, Donna Murphy knocks one out of the park in "Wonderful Town," giving a performance of such sustained wit, buoyancy and charm that she seems to blow any dust off the pages of this 50-year-old musical with the first breath from her petite frame.

It's hard to believe so much time has passed since that spring 2000 staging at City Center's Encores! series -- the vibrance of Murphy's performance still feels fresh in the memory. A second look confirms those recollections aren't burnished by nostalgia: Murphy is, in fact, even sharper and funnier now, and her perf is the humming engine that drives this appealing, modestly scaled revival.

The production is essentially a smartly tarted-up version of that concert staging, once again choreographed and directed by Kathleen Marshall. Rob Fisher, the musicals-in-concert series' music director, is in his usual place upstage, surrounded by an orchestra that's generous by Broadway's current standards. It allows Don Walker's original orchestrations of Leonard Bernstein's music to shine anew. Cleverly conceived but minimal sets by John Lee Beatty, riffing on Encores' traditional gilt-frame device, add dashes of period authenticity. Pouring on the colorful lighting accents, Peter Kaczorowski turns the stage into an urban kaleidoscope.

Although it limits the space available for staging, there is a poetic aptness to the orchestra's presence onstage, and not just because Bernstein's music is ageless in a way that not all the other elements in the show are. The music captures the brassy energy and excitement of urban living in melody and rhythm -- it's almost a character itself, representing the drumbeat of street life that goes on outside the windows of the subterranean apartment where Ruth Sherwood (Murphy) and her sister Eileen (Jennifer Westfeldt) struggle to find a foothold on happiness.

These naive Midwesterners have settled in Greenwich Village, that hotbed of bohemianism fondly spoofed in the show's zestily staged opening number, in which Martha Graham dancers plunge and lunge amid a swirling crowd of writers and artists. The production does not attempt to comment on the distance we've traveled from the days when the Village could be presented as both alluringly naughty and entirely wholesome. It trusts the still flavorful wit in the book by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov, and the lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, to compensate for any shortcuts in plotting or simplicities of character, and it mostly does. The show dates from the days when a rollicking good time was all musicals were expected to deliver, and dramaturgy was an unknown word.

The episodic storyline contrasts Ruth's thwarted efforts to get a job in journalism with Eileen's trail of swooning admirers. Although the big dreams of these Midwestern girls get a little nicked along the way, a happy ending is never in question. Ruth gets her press card, all right, and finally finds romance with that magazine editor. Eileen juggles her besotted swains without dropping anyone on his head, and gets her big nightclub break just in time to provide the show with a jazzy finale.

The performers embrace the material with brio and affection, and the production has been cast with a sure eye. Nancy Anderson and Raymond Jaramillo McLeod are a comic pleasure as the young couple living in sin (!) next door. Peter Benson is a sweet goof as Eileen's admirer from the soda fountain at Woolworth's. As the tough-skinned editor who turns out to be an old softy, Gregg Edelman has just the right quality of boyishness going gray around the edges, and he sings stylishly.

Westfeldt, star and co-author of indie pic "Kissing Jessica Stein," has a pretty, heart-shaped smile and the right, slightly dim sweetness for Eileen. Her singing voice is light but pleasing, and she is delicious as she swoons in turn over two men and a chocolate candy in "A Little Bit in Love," one of the score's nuggets of real gold.

But the evening belongs to Murphy. The role of Ruth was tailored to fit Rosalind Russell, who had a limited vocal range. Murphy does not, and one of the real pleasures of this revival is hearing the score delivered with an instrument that gives it its full due. But Murphy proves to be an assured comedian, too, with acerbic line readings that add a softening pinch of pathos to Ruth's sardonic asides.

She looks chic as can be in Martin Pakledinaz's neatly tailored suits and dresses, of course. In fact, the combustion that occurs when Murphy's naturally dignified poise meets the knockabout comic aspects of the role is the greatest source of the evening's energy. The physical exuberance of Murphy's perf may be its most delightful aspect. Her energy never seems to flag, nor her grace falter, as she vamps through a series of literary spoofs, or delineates with hilarious flair the "One Hundred Easy Ways" to lose a man. She scats up a storm in the big jazz number from act two and, most pricelessly, is tossed hither and yon by a pack of delirious Portuguese sailors bent on learning the conga.

Even the smallest bits of business are performed with a keen sense of character and an innate theatricality: Just wrestling with a recalcitrant sofa bed, Murphy manages to raise a chuckle. There is, in other words, no end to the pleasures of her performance.


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