Old-style: “Wonderful Town” at Harvard
In Wonderful Town, two small-town sisters with big dreams move to New York City. Suddenly, the young women are two fish in a much larger pond, dealing with all the challenges of trying to succeed in a new, intimidating environment. Composed by Leonard Bernstein ’39 in the early 1950s, the show is well known for its Golden Age characteristics and premiered in 1953 to critical acclaim. Susanna Wolk ’14, director of the Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club production, has worked to connect the emotions of the 1930s protagonists to the emotions of today’s student body.
“To me, the challenges of moving to a large, scary city, having big dreams, and trying to succeed to the highest degree, all while navigating complicated webs of friends, family and romantic relations could not be more applicable to life as a Harvard student – this is what so many of us will inevitably end up doing after graduation,” she said.
Though the musical takes place in the 1930s, the themes of the show are intensely relevant to youth today, especially Harvard Class of 2017, which was admitted this week. Like the protagonists of Wonderful Town, these incoming students will learn to stand on their own feet over the course of their first year in a new, exciting environment. To emphasize the emotional similarities between the protagonists and the audience members, Wolk has “supersized” much about the show.
Wolk focused her directing not on the time period of the musical, but rather on the common themes of growing up and living city life. The show includes seven dance numbers, each about five minutes long. A cast of zany characters and a large, 16-piece orchestra echoes the vitality of Manhattan in sound and energy, driving these dance numbers. The sets are also large and multi-part, changing shape throughout the show.
“It’s not just bigness for its own sake–everything here serves to emphasize our greater point about the vitality of Manhattan,” said Wolk.
The “bigness” of this production mirrors the “bigness” the protagonists are experiencing – and, by extension, the audience members who are likely to reminisce about first days at college or a move to a new city. The experience is overwhelming and challenging, but through the spirit of Wonderful Town, it can also be inspiring.