Anyone Can Whistle

Book by Arthur Laurents. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The original Broadway production opened on 4 April 1964 and was directed by Arthur Laurents with choreography by Herbert Ross, running for 9 performances.

Synopsis and Musical Numbers

ANYONE CAN WHISTLE

Angela Lansbury with members of the company in the original Broadway production

A narrator introduces us to a town and its citizens: in the main square, which is crumbling before our very eyes, vacancy signs are up and the citizens are a sorry lot dressed in rags. The “Cookies” march in singing their childlike anthem, I’M LIKE THE BLUEBIRD – they are inmates of the local insane asylum. Meanwhile, Cora, the Mayoress, concedes that everyone in town hates her, and it’s not surprising: the reservoir’s dry, the town’s bust, the citizenry are starving, there’s grass on the sidewalks but not in the park. And it’s all so unfair: “ME AND MY TOWN, we just wanna be loved,” she tells her Boys, aware that she’s unpopular with the populace. But salvation from bankruptcy is at hand in the form of a fake miracle – water flowing from a rock. It’s a sign, it’s a goldmine and it’s holier than thine.

ANYONE CAN WHISTLE

Lee Remick and Harry Guardino in the original Broadway production

“Our troubles are over – praise the Lord!” cheer the Townsfolk (THE MIRACLE SONG), as the Pilgrims and Tourists swarm in to take the waters for a modest fee”. But a small hitch occurs. Patients from a local mental hospital, The Cookie Jar, escape and mingle with the tourists. In order to sort out the sane from the insane, Cora and the Town Council turn to a visiting doctor, J. Bowen Hapgood, who applies the most rigorous principles of logic and divides the crowd in Group A or Group 1. But which is which? Is Group A sane? Or is it Group 1? “SIMPLE”, says Hapgood, but he ties Cora’s council in knots before announcing, “You are all mad – and turning to the audience. After a blackout, the lights come up to show the cast seated on the stage in the orchestra seats, looking at programmes, laughing and applauding the audience.

ANYONE CAN WHISTLE

Lee Remick and Harry Guardino in the original Broadway production

In the process of rounding up the escaped cookies, Hapgood has met Fay Apple, a nurse from the mental institution who joins him in a flirtatiously French duet (COME PLAY WIZ ME). But Fay’s truer feelings are expressed in a confessional soliloquy: ANYONE CAN WHISTLE but she can’t. What’s hard is simple to her, but really simple things she finds impossible. Through the street, meanwhile, the cry of “Hooray for Hapgood!” has gone up. At last, there’s a man they can trust (A-1 MARCH). Cora can’t help but notice there’s A PARADE IN TOWN, but she consoles herself with the thought that any parade without her is, by definition, second-class. Hapgood’s message is a simple one: EVERYBODY SAYS DON’T – don’t walk on the grass, don’t disturb the peace, don’t rock the boat. He says: go right ahead and do it.

ANYONE CAN WHISTLE

Lee Remick and Harry Guardino in the original Broadway production

Cora may be losing her grip, but, as she tells her council, “I’VE GOT YOU TO LEAN ON”. It’s some comfort to know that, if she goes, she won’t go alone, she tells them menacingly. Luckily for her, Hapgood is a fraud: he’s just another cookie. SEE WHAT IT GETS YOU, Fay reprimands herself. You step out, you give a little – and you’re let down. Your hero has feet of clay and you’re left alone. But, if nothing else, she’s at last begun whistling. Cora, on the other hand, is supervising Dr. Detmold’s round-up of the other cookies – she wants them all in jail immediately (THE COOKIE CHASE).

But, aided only by a fake French accent, Fay creates a diversion and foils Cora. Besides, the tourists are all heading over to a neighbouring town where a new “miracle” has taken place. Hapgood, convinced he’s a failure, has decided to leave. Fay says he’s needed right here. But, whatever else happens, in this world WITH SO LITTLE TO BE SURE OF, they had one marvellous moment. They’re bidding farewell – or are they? “Hold me,” says Fay, as the music swells and the curtains fall.

Songs cut from this production include: THE LAME, THE HALT AND THE BLIND; THE NATIVES ARE RESTLESS; A HERO IS COMING; THERE WON’T BE TRUMPETS and THERE’S ALWAYS A WOMAN.

Discussion

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