Wonderful Town

Connie Fisher has got her voice back and will be putting it to good use by starring in the Leonard Bernstein musical comedy Wonderful Town, reports Kevin Bourke

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Just over a year ago, Connie Fisher, who rose to fame on the TV show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, was told she would never sing again. Forced to drop out of The Sound Of Music tour, she was, as widely reported, “heartbroken”. Yet recently she crooned a tune just a few feet from my face (check it out at, if you don’t believe me!) at the launch of Wonderful Town, a landmark collaboration between three Manchester arts powerhouses, the Royal Exchange Theatre, the Hallé Orchestra and the Lowry.

Her role in the Leonard Bernstein musical comedy, as an aspiring writer who arrives in New York in search of romance and success, requires a lower vocal range than the one in The Sound of Music, she tells me afterwards. But her vocal problems had been very real and potentially career-ending.

“I was waking up every morning with a rasping voice like Marge Simpson and was diagnosed with congenital sulcus vocalis, a condition that means I have holes in my vocal chords. To me, singing is like breathing. I do it brushing my teeth, or making a cup of tea. It’s who I am.”

“To face a future without singing felt like I was being robbed of the most precious part of me. For a while I was in a really dark place,” she admits.

“Then I was referred to a leading American surgeon in Boston, who had also operated on Julie Andrews and Adele. He examined me and said he would operate but that he honestly couldn’t tell whether I would ever sing again.”

Her voice was saved, but not entirely restored. “My voice now has a creak,” she says. “I still have melody in it but I’ve gone from a high soprano to an alto, and that precludes certain roles in musical theatre. So singing again in public feels both natural and frustrating because I would love to reach the high notes that I used to hit.

“I still have that singing foundation and training but I have to rethink how I sing. Every time I open my mouth I have to re-evaluate how I’m going to position the note, so it’s been very difficult.”

Fisher recently announced that she would never play Maria again but is excited to play Ruth. “I have always enjoyed playing comedy and the part of Ruth is such a great comic role – one that was once played by one of my idols, Maureen Lipman. As if that opportunity wasn’t great enough, I also get to sing with the Hallé and work at the Lowry. Awesome!”

Not only will Wonderful Town be the first opportunity to hear Fisher sing again but it will also mark the first time that music director Sir Mark Elder will conduct a musical for the Hallé, as well as the first time that a full symphony orchestra will have played in a theatre orchestra pit in this country. Conversely, it will mark the last time that Braham Murray will direct a production as joint artistic director of the Royal Exchange Theatre before his retirement.

“The Royal Exchange has always wanted to collaborate with the Hallé on a grand scale and it doesn’t come much grander than this,” Murray observes. “The Lowry had talked to us about collaboration in principle some time ago but there was nothing around at the time. Then when Wonderful Town came along, I remembered that conversation. I didn’t know Wonderful Town at the time but I fell in love with it. The music is marvellously inventive, the script is brilliantly funny, the whole a zany celebration of New York.”

In fact, Wonderful Town, which premièred in New York in 1953, ran for more than a thousand performances there, winning five Tony Awards. “Maybe it will run for a thousand performances here in the UK. I feel like this is a new me,” concludes Fisher.

Wonderful Town, The Lowry, 31 March-21 April (the full Hallé Orchestra will not be performing in the third week). It will then tour to venues including Sheffield Lyceum (1-5 May). See

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Wonderful Town

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