‘WONDERFUL TOWN’ wows David Douglas High Theater audiences

Find out why folks are applauding ‘the best musical no one’s heard of’

Under the baton of Jennifer Muller, the David Douglas High Orchestra kicks off the show with a lively overture.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Even though most people apparently have never heard of the musical play called WONDERFUL TOWN, and its music by Leonard Bernstein, there’s a good chance they’ll be tapping their toes and humming tunes such as “Ohio” or “It’s Love” as the curtain goes down at the David Douglas High School Horner Performing Arts Theatre.

Loosely based on autobiographical short stories by Ruth McKenney which were published in The New Yorker magazine, and published as the book “My Sister Eileen” in 1938, WONDERFUL TOWN is a “period piece” about the author, and her showbiz-bound sister Eileen McKenney who reached out for success after traveling from Ohio to the “Big Apple”.

The sisters from Ohio find their way to Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, in New York City, circa 1935.

Sisters Eileen (Alanna St. Peters) and Ruth (Sarah Granberg) sister decide whether or not to rent a basement apartment from Mr. Appopolous (Connor Riggs).

“This is a truly entertaining show, in so many ways,” grinned the musical’s director, Judy LeCoq, a DDHS theater instructor. “And, it features two female leading roles, surrounded by strong supporting characters.

“It’s a colorful, light, and lively show, with terrific music and dance numbers,” Judy LeCoq told East Portland News. “And, many people will hear ‘musical themes’ in the fabulous music that reappeared in some of the later works also composed by Leonard Bernstein.”

The storyline was so humorously compelling to network executives, CBS Television created a 26 episode TV series that began in 1960 called My Sister Eileen.

Helen (Bella Green) and “Wreck” (Jake Gallagher) tell Ruth and Eileen of their impending plight – when her mother comes to town.

Eileen and Ruth wonder, in the song “Ohio”, if they made a terrible mistake by coming to New York City.

Assistant Editor of Madhatter (Becca Tew), and Junior Editor Robert “Bob” Baker (Ethan Archer), musically say “What A Waste” about all the people who come to New York, but really should have stayed home.

About the story
Aspiring writer Ruth (most ably acted and sung by Sarah Granberg) and her stage-struck hopeful sister Eileen (equally well played by Alanna St. Peters), hope to find a place to live, jobs – and even romance” – when they arrive on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, after traveling all the way from her home in Columbus, Ohio.

It’s difficult enough, living in a dingy basement apartment rented out by hopeful artist Mr. Appopolous (played by Connor Riggs). Add to this the complications when they run into the former tenant of the unit, “lady of the night” Violet (Korrie Brown), and get mixed up in the lives of struggling engaged couple Helen (Bella Green) and her football player beau “Wreck” (Jake Gallagher).

At this awkward dinner party, with no food and just one bottle of cheap wine, Walgreens manager Frank Lippencott (Brandon Montes) finds newspaperman Chick Clark (Alex Montgomery) is after the attentions of Eileen, as Bob Baker wonders why Ruth pays no attention to him.

In song, Editor Bob Baker wonders aloud why he can’t find “A Quiet Girl”, as Ruth listens, quietly, in the background.

Eileen draws the attention of boys as bees are attracted to honey, but she just can’t stumble across a job. Ruth diligently tries to meet influential people of the press, including Madhatter Junior Editor Robert “Bob” Baker (played by talented actor and singer Ethan Archer), who takes an interest in her and her work – but he can’t get her published, and worse, he asks Eileen out on a date.

Along the way, the sisters can’t seem to shake slick newspaperman and the “bad boy” admirer of Eileen, Chick Clark (slickly played by Alex Montgomery) and the slick owner of the Village Vortex nightclub Speedy Valenti (Jace Adams, who has fun with the role).

Ruth gets an assignment to cover the arrival of Brazilian navy cadets, only to learn they know only one word in English, “Conga!”

In jail, Eileen quickly endears herself to “New York’s Finest”, as Officer Lonigan (Felisa Armitage) and brother officers serenade her in the Christopher Street Station House, singing “My Darlin’ Eileen”.

Through dialog and song, this superb cast unfolds quite a story – including an awkward dinner party, a night in jail, a conga line with Brazilian Navy cadets (played by DDHS teachers!), and a nightclub production.

Standout production numbers include “What a Waste”, “Swing” (complete with “jazz hands”), “Ballet at the Village Vortex”, and “Wrong Note Rag”, with 34 dancers and chorus members performing routines, well-choreographed by Lynette Velasquez.

Ruth and the villagers “Swing” in this lively production number.

The 35-member David Douglas High Orchestra provides the soundtrack, under the baton of music instructor Jennifer Muller.

With supervision of Technical Director and Stagecraft Instructor Molly Stowe, about 50 DDHS Stagecraft students painted the backdrops, built the sets, and gathered the furnishings. And, 25 student stage technicians produce the show, operating the lighting and sound, and managing the swift set changes.

At the Village Vortex nightclub, Eileen and Ruth become the “toast of the town” after performing “Wrong Note Rag” together.

“Wonderful Town” opens on November 14 at 7:30 p.m., and continues on November 15. They’re presenting a Family Matinee at 2:30 p.m. on November 16. The show finishes its run with evening performances on November 20, 21, and 22.

Technical Director Molly Stowe, and Director Judy LeCoq applaud at the conclusion of the dress rehearsal of WONDERFUL TOWN.

TICKETS: Adults: $10 | Students/Seniors: $7. Reserve tickets online at their website: CLICK HERE; or buy them in advance at the Box Office from 3:00 until 5:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (school days).

Contact the Box Office for more information at 503-261-8270. The David Douglas High Horner Performing Art Center is located at 1400 SE 130th Avenue, between SE Stark and Division Streets.

The cast of WONDERFUL TOWN takes a well-deserved bow.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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