The Wonderful Story behind "Wonderful Town"

by Josh McTaggart

The classic Leonard Bernstein musical Wonderful Town will take center stage at the Loeb Drama Center April 5-13. Under the musical supervision of Madie Smith ‘14, the orchestra is working its way through a score that Bernstein wrote in less than a month. "Like a student facing a paper deadline, Bernstein used the resources nearest at hand – the stylings of the most popular '30s big band and swing ensembles." Smith explains. Jamie Bernstein, Leonard’s daughter, will hold a pre-show talk 6:30 p.m. Saturday April 6. Earlier this week, Jamie Bernstein answered questions about her connection to the show and her father’s work.

What do you remember about Wonderful Town from when you were a child?

Wonderful Town was a project my father took on for a number of reasons, but perhaps one of the main reasons was that I was just born. All of a sudden there was another mouth to feed and another pair of feet to put shoes on. My father’s very good friends Adolph Green and Betty Comden were asked to do a complete rewrite of a musical Wonderful Town, which had already been written. Betty and Adolph called my father and said, "Come on, let’s do this together, right now!" Literally, in five weeks they wrote the new version of Wonderful Town.

What makes Wonderful Town special to you?

I didn’t really get to know Wonderful Town until I was older, but when I did, I fell in love with it because the music is irresistible and it has a lovely zany quality. Betty, Adolph and my father had this tremendous youthful energy, which they found a way to recapture when they wrote Wonderful Town .

Did Harvard play much of a role in your relationship with your father?

When I was getting ready to graduate from high school, I decided that I would prefer to go to NYU because I would be nearer my toxic high-school boyfriend. My father said, "What are you talking about? You’re going to Harvard. It’s the best school in the world!" It was a little hard to argue the point. In my junior year my father arrived on campus to give the Norton Lectures, and he was having so much fun he stayed on until half way through my senior year. It was very confusing to have my father on campus while I was trying to figure out who I might be. My own relationship to Harvard is complicated for that reason, but my father had nothing but profound affection and good memories about Harvard.

What inspires you in the work you do?

Everything inspires me. My father’s whole approach to life was that everything was interesting to him, and he had this burning curiosity about all sorts of subjects. He communicated that sense of excitement, exuberance, and curiosity to his three kids. I found a way to share that with my own audiences.

[Caption: Jamie Bernstein ]