THE ecstatic reception for the musical, Wonderful Town, in Manchester has been a triumph for Connie Fisher for a number of reasons.
“I have proved I am not a one-trick pony,” says the singer who made her name in The Sound of Music after winning reality TV show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?. But also because not so long ago she feared she would have to give up singing altogether.
“In 2009 I was diagnosed with a condition I was born with, congenital sulcus vocalis, which meant I had holes in each of my vocal cords. I was told I would never sing again but went to the leading surgeon in the world who sorted me out and I went back on tour with The Sound of Music.
“This is a new chapter for me because I knew I could never reach those top notes again for Maria,” she says. “I knew I wanted to sing in a different way and not worry about the top notes. I am 28 - nearly 30 - and can’t do juvenile leads for ever.
“There’s a big stigma to being cast in the way I was. You are not taken as seriously as other artists. I wanted to reinvent my profile and show my versatility. I want to show I could do comedy. I did They Are Playing Our Song in 2009 with Alistair Mcgowan and learned a lot from that. Maureen Lipman, Victoria Wood, Imelda Staunton these are the kind of people whose footsteps I aspire to follow. I have always been a comedy girl, I enjoy that a lot more than just singing.”
Penned by the great Leonard Bernstein, Wonderful Town recreates the bright lights of 1930s New York City, with spectacular sets, dazzling choreography and a company of more than 40 actors and dancers and a 17 piece live orchestra.
Fisher plays Ruth Sherwood, a girl from Ohio and an aspiring writer who arrives in New York City with her beautiful younger sister Eileen with dreams of riches and romance. The indomitable pair meet an array of colourful characters in their search for success, causing chaos and delight at every turn.
Wonderful Town was revived on Broadway in 2003, 50 years since it premiered, but was last performed in London in 1986. The new production is a collaboration between the Royal Exchange Theatre, the Hallé Orchestra and The Lowry where it premiered and is now touring nationally with the possibility of going into the West End.
It was the idea of Halle musical director Mark Elder, according to Fisher, “He had seen the Broadway production back in 200 and they approached me when I was still doing Sound of Music and . I hadn’t even heard of it then. I auditioned at Glynebourne two years ago - the Halle have to work a long time in advance. Then I heard it was going to be directed by Braham Murray who’s artistic director of the Royal Exchange in Manchester so I knew I was working with the perfect team.
“I don’t think anyone had heard of Wonderful Town - people kept calling it On the Town - but now they have,” says Fisher.
“It will make you laugh and cry but not because it’s sad - nobody dies. You will cry with laughter. My mother came with full make-up on and came out looking like a panda. She said she had been crying with laughter.”
When Wonderful Town opened audiences at the Lowry had the bonus of Mark Elder conducting the Halle. “On the tour you get a 17-piece orchestra, still members of the Halle,” points out Fisher. “It’s still a fantastic sound. Bernstein wrote this two years before West Side Story It’s got that Fifties influence, it’s got a sound that’s swing and jazzy and dancey and the songs have a breathy sound.”
In Sheffield next week she says she will be happy to meet fans at the stage door and thank them for voting for her as Maria - “even if they now see me in a new role in a wig.”
The tour runs for 11 weeks and then after that she is lined up for another episode of Casualty. Wonderful Town is at the Lyceum Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday.