A phone call from George Abbott always held promise of excitement. Late in 1952, I (Betty) got a phone call and it was George asking if we could write the lyrics for a show based on My Sister Eileen to star Rosalind Russell. I (Adolph) was in Paris and got a call from me (Betty) telling about it, which caused me (Adolph) to rush home at once. It seems they had a partial score they were unsure of. George asked if we could write a score in four weeks because after that they would lose Miss Russell to other commitments, and wanted to know what composer we could suggest. We thought of Leonard Bernstein, knowing he had just returned home from his honeymoon with Felicia, and mentioned him dubiously to George. George said: "Go over and ask him right away!" We did, although we were very doubtful if Lenny would be interested. Amoung other things he had promised his mentor Serge Koussevitsky that after On The Town he would get down to serious business and never, never write another show. We had no sooner entered Lenny's apartment and were blurting out the facts about the show when the phone rang. It was George, never one to waste time, barking at us impatiently, "Well, is it yes or no?!!" To our surprise, with no hesitation Lenny said "Yes." He always liked deadlines, and four weeks to write a score was an irresistible challenge.
The play by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov written in the 1940's had been based on stories by Ruth McKenney about two girls from Columbus, Ohio, who come to New York in the mid-30's to seek fame and fortune. We resisted all pressure to update it to the 50's, and knew we were on our way when Lenny exuberantly banged out on the piano the Eddie Duchin vamp, a characteristic musical sound of the 1930's. We were creatively on our way to Greenwich Village and adventure in the "Big City," and were able to complete the score in the prescribed four weeks.
This show celebrates New York as the magnet for young people from all fields of endeavor who, like Ruth and Eileen, still come here to fulfill their aspirations in this Wonderful Town."
© 1997 by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. This preface is taken from Applause Theater & Cinema Books publication THE NEW YORK MUSICALS OF COMDEN AND GREEN. Permission has been granted for use of this preface to this web site only. All other rights must be sought from Applause Theatre & Cinema Books.
1953 Original Broadway Production
7th Annual Tony Awards (1953):
*Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Rosalind Russell)
*Best Choreography (Donald Saddler)
*Best Conductor and Musical Director (Lehman Engel)
*Best Scenic Design (Raoul Pène Du Bois)
9th Annual Theatre World Awards (1952-53)
1986 London Production
2003 Broadway Revival
58th Annual Tony Awards (2004)
Best Revival of a Musical
Best Actress in a Musical - Donna Murphy
Best Featured Actress in a Musical - Jennifer Westfeldt
Best Direction of a Musical
49th Annual Drama Desk Awards (2004)
*Outstanding Actress in a Musical - Donna Murphy
Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical - Raymond Jaramillo McLeod
Outstanding Director of a Musical
Outstanding Set Design of a Musical
60th Annual Theatre World Awards (2003-04)
(*Indicates a win)
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Cover Art for the Original Cast Album of Wonderful Town, 1953