Wonderful Town is about the adventures and misadventures of two sisters who move from their comfortable hometown in Ohio to Greenwich Village, a bohemian area in New York City (“Christopher Street”) to fulfill their dreams. Ruth is an aspiring writer, average in appearance and can’t keep a man’s attention—no matter what. Eileen, a fledgling actress, is Ruth’s opposite. She is a beautiful dancer, who—without even trying—has men falling at her feet.
The girls end up with a one-month lease on a tiny, basement studio apartment near a subway construction site. What it lacks in charm and privacy, the room makes up for in location. They are homesick (“Ohio”). The neighborhood is full of interesting people like Appopolous, their landlord and an artist; Wreck, a former football player, and his live-in fiancée, Helen; Mrs. Wade, Helen’s mother who comes for a visit; Violet, a lady of the night and the previous tenant of the apartment the girls are renting; and a precinct of friendly police officers.
Ruth and Eileen venture into the city to make their dreams come true, and have very different experiences. Ruth is ignored and Eileen is greeted. Eileen has a hard time breaking into show business, but falls “A Little Bit in Love.” Somehow she ends up inviting three men to the same dinner party. Social disaster results when the men—Frank Lippencott, the sweet manager of a drugstore; Chick Clark, a sharp newspaper man; and Bob Baker, a lonely editor of The Manhatter—meet. Frank leaves with a wine-stained suit, Bob is too honest with Ruth about her writing so is forced to leave (“A Quiet Girl”), and Chick plays a prank on Ruth so he can be alone with Eileen.
Ruth’s “One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man” gives good examples of how she unconsciously scares away men. At least she convinces Bob to interview her and read her work, but his response is “What a Waste.” Thanks to Chick, Ruth ends up at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to interview admirals on a Brazilian training ship.
The sisters act like good neighbors and let Wreck sleep in their kitchen while Helen’s mom visits. From the moment they meet, Wreck makes a terrible impression on Mrs. Wade. He looks like a “good-for-nothing,” and still recites his past glories (“Pass That Football”). At the end of the first act, Eileen is in jail for carrying on with the Brazilian admirals that followed Ruth back home from the Navy Yard (“Conga!”).
Bob bails Eileen out of jail, and she actually gets a legitimate audition in Speedy Valenti’s nightclub (“Wrong Note Rag”). Ruth gets a job carrying a sandwich board on her back to make money. Chick’s editor unexpectedly likes her story on the Brazilian training ship, so her career has promise. Bob actually loses his job at The Manhatter over a fight with his editor about the merits of Ruth’s training ship story. Eileen helps Bob see that he is in love with Ruth. In an elaborate scam involving Appopolous, Helen and Wreck convince Mrs. Wade to like Wreck. Everyone joins in to sing “It’s Love.”—Synopsis by Tams-Witmark