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A CurtainUp London Review

Whistle Down the Wind
By Sue Kriesman

I don't know.  You can't please the critics these days.  Some of them have attacjed the plot of Whistle Down the Wind for not being realistic. You mean we have to believe in the bones of a musical now?  They'll be telling me Cinderella had no fairy godmother, next.

 Let me ask you to suspend your logical reasoning for a couple of hours and take yourself along to see this musical play.  It's a low-key, perfectly produced quiet little number with starring scenery and moving performances. And what it is about, I think, is the triumph of belief and goodness over evil.  And maybe the triumph of hope over reality.

There are a lot of children in this story of a murderer found hiding in a barn. It is set right from the opening scene very firmly in the bible-punching Way-of- Life that was Louisiana in the 1950's. Swallow (well played by Lottie Mayor) believes he is the Messiah and convinces all the other children that he is too.  The composite play of the children together is surely the best seen since The Sound of Music and Oliver.  The team seemed to avoid being sickly-sweet whilst maintaining a really admirable professionalism.    (Ed. note: Two teams of ten children play alternate performances).

 It is, it cannot be denied a sentimental story with the goody-goodies very good indeed.  But the story works.  The story of an orderly sleepy town besieged, as the adults see it, by the ugly fear of a killer at bay, or beguiled, as the children see it, by the coming of a real person to bring them all the heavenly promises of Sunday School.

The sub-plot is, of course, sex.  The awakening adulthood of young Swallow, and the galloping hormones of the raunchy young biker, played oddly passionlessly by Dean Collinson.  Yet I also felt  that  there was plenty of danger and darkness to set off the too-easy wonderland of it all.

Not only was there is a theatrical rightness to the thing, you have to marvel at the staging.  Many plays and musicals need several locations in which the scenes will take place and often, through the centuries various ways of using different levels have been devised.     How the engineers have designed the levels in Whistle Down The Wind is innovative, charming and right-on.   Except for a couple of scenes with "The Man" sung fantastically by Marcus Lovett, there were no places where you longed to yell "cut" - and on top of that, praise indeed for a West End show, the singing diction was universally superb.

So what was the downside?  For me there wasn't quite enough humour, I would have preferred an orchestra, I didn't like the 50's music and I wish the Man could have had a nice clean vest for the second act.  But it's a good clean touching evening out. Take the family.

Editor's Note: The critics Sue refers to in her opening include Nicholas de Jongh of the Evening Standard who declared Whistle to be "so ludicrous in outline, so unmemorable in song that his admirers may tune out and turn on to something more contemporary." Michael Billington of The Guardian quipped that it was "so much piffle down the wind." Those who shared Sue's more favorable view included The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, with Robert Gore-Langston of the latter paper writing that he found himself both moved and beguiled, and concluding "damn it. Lloyd Webber has at last come up with a hit for those who don't quite get the point of him." 

he show which began previews at the Aldwych Theater (WC2B 4DF, Covent Garden tube station Tel: 0171 416 6003) on 6/22/98, and was reviewed by Sue Kriesman the day after its 7/01 opening. It is scheduled to run through 10/18/98 with the following cast:

 Marcus Lovett (The Man), Lottie Mayor (The Swallow), Dean Collinson (Amos), Reg Eppey (The Minister), James Graeme (Boone), Veronica Hart (Candy), Christopher Howard(Snake Handler),Rosalind James (Ramona), Paul Lowe (Earl), Walter Reynolds (Edward), John Turner (Sheriff Cookridge), Gerard Bentall, Anthony Cable, Nicolas Colicos, VIkki Coote, Carol Duffy, , Laurel Ford, Jason McCann, Jayne Nesbitt, Craig Parkinson, Mark Powell, Jean Reeve, Michael Samuels, Tony Stansfield, Rohan Tickell, Sarah West

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