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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Anyone Can Whistle
Ace production values embellish this rare revival of Stephen Sondheim's 1964 musical. It's billed as a "revised version" because the verbose book by Arthur Laurents, whose works include The Time of the Cuckoo and the books for West Side Story and Gypsy, was streamlined, with Laurents' and Sondheim's approval.
It's still easy to see why it never caught on. Think Urinetown without the edge, Dear World" (the musical version of The Madwoman of Chaillot) without the charm, Finian's Rainbow without the lyricism. It manages to be too earnest and too silly at the same time.
A social satire in which the corrupt Mayoress of a small town stages a phony miracle to attract tourists who mix with the inmates of The Cookie Jar, a "sanitarium for the socially pressured", the themes deal with the nature of identity, sanity and idealism. Each inmate sports a minority label such as Feminist, Homosexual, NAACP, "people who make other people nervous by living individual lives." These stigmas each get their star turn in the delightfully choreographed A-1 Parade.
Nurse Fay Apple fights for justice with the light-hearted help of J. Bowden Hapgood, who is introduced as a psychiatrist but turns out to be a "practicing idealist", among other things. Apple's disguise as a French lady from Lourdes sent to authenticate the miracle consists of a red feathered dress and red 1920s bob that have the effect of eradicating her Apple personality, much to Hapgood's glee.
One would like to see the splendid cast, director and choreographer involved in a better show. Nevertheless, there's still enough Sondheim to enjoy. "There Won't Be Trumptets", "With So Little To Be Sure O"f and the title song are hauntingly melodic and clever lyrics enliven such mixed gender duets as when in "A Parade in Town" the fashionista Mayor Cora Hoover Hooper sings, "While I was getting ready, did a parade go by?""
The revision certainly tightened the show and Michael Michetti's direction and Larry Sousa's choreography are just as effective as Apple's French façade in making you feel you're watching an absolutely glamorous top-drawer production.
Opening the show is Ruth Williamson as Mayor Cora Hoover Hooper whose dazzling villainy, droll dancing and enticing voice are worth the price of admission all by themselves. The charm of leading man John Bisom as Hapgood and the grounded fervor of Misty Cotton as Nurse Apple illuminate what could be written off as "the love interest." Joe Hart delivers a huge man who can slink and croon as the unctuous Schub and Ira Denmark makes evil Treasurer Cooley innocent and sunny.
A. Jeffrey Schoenberg designed excellent period costumes, especially those for the clothes-obsessed Mayoress. Carole Black, who has produced two other rarely done Sondheim musicals here in the past four years, can be thanked for giving us a chance to see "Anyone Can Whistle." Preserving and polishing the canon of one of our major composers is worth doing and well done.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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