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A CurtainUp Philadelphia Review
Anyone Can Whistle

I should grumble
I should kick
I should be a heretic.

--- A Cookie
Jane Summerhays (as Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper) and some of "The Cookies" in "The Cookie Jar."
As if headed for a repeat of its 1964 premiere marked by multiple problems (including a dancer falling into the pit and landing on top of a saxophone player who then suffered a heart attack), the current Prince Music Theater's ambitious production of Anyone Can Whistle was hampered at the outset by the fact that the three leads were suffering from the flu. It was announced that none of them would be able to perform at the January 29th press opening. At the 11th hour, however, Jane Summerhays (the Mayoress) and Chuck Wagner (Hapgood) said they would perform despite their illness, which left the still very flu-ridden Crista Moore (Fay) in sick bay. Taryn Cagnina, the understudy, appeared as Fay.

It is a wonderful --and costly-- gesture for the Prince Music Theater to stage Anyone Can Whistle for 12 days to celebrate Steven Sondheim's 75th birthday. However, speaking as someone who likes Sondheim and respects Arthur Laurents' work, I have to say you'd do better to buy the music and listen on your ipod.

This concert version, which Arthur Laurents wrote for the 1995 Carnegie Hall production, seems to have been extrapolated from the stage version in shorthand. Director Charles Gilbert has done the best he can by it, but the book remains a dog's bre>akfast.

Lab coated ushers give audience members an amusing advertising leaflet for Dr. Detmold's services. This paves the way for audience-implicating bits to follow. The story includes a concocted miracle, escaped inmates who are either crazy or not, and a love motif with a disguised nurse and an ersatz doctor. Add a muddled anti-conformist agenda and loose ends. Then let things spin out of control, and you have some idea of the tangle Charles Gilbert has on his hands with this musical.

Act one is problematic, not just because it's hard to make sense of the story, but because the pacing is awkward. The Mayoress, Cora Hoover Hooper (Jane Summerhays) and her three bureaucrats, Schub, Magruder, and Cooley (Jim Bergwall, Charles McCloskey, Doug Anderson) bravely handle the material, still this show lacks the polish we are accustomed to seeing in musicals. Act two, perkier by far, generates good songs and pretty good pandemonium, and a nice, yet all but incomprehensible finale.

Jane Summerhays' characterization of Cora Hoover Hooper is a plus, but she sure could use a couple of costume changes. Chuck Wagner's "Everybody Says Don't" was nicely turned out despite his flu. Todd Waddington does a good Narrator /Dr. Detmold. The inmates of Dr. Detmold's insane asylum, called "Cookies," have great names like Chaplin, Marty King, Ibsen, Mozart, and Freud. Sondheim's lyrics-- civilized, crazy, and sensitive -- as any aficionado knows, feature a lot of word play, which the ensemble handles well. Standout Cookies are Billy Bustamante and Jarrod Lentz.

Understudy Taryn Cagnina, who was underwhelming in Act I, really stepped up to the plate in Act II for <":See What it Gets You", which also reprises "Anyone Can Whistle". Later, her voice lacked the power to hold its own in her pairing with Wagner for "With So Little to be Sure Of".

The large orchestra under the direction of Sam Davis is on stage. It does a fine job negotiating the complicated, layered score. The music is crisp and brisk yet moody, a fabric of sound that provides a needed unifying element to the action. But the score is too cerebral to stoop to the sentimentality that would allow this to be the love story it (partly) wants to be.

The original stage version in '64 may have alienated audiences partially due to its content. But rebellious content is not this show's biggest problem. The clash between the disjointed confusion of the book and the sophistication of the score creates a dissonance well beyond the desirable dissonance of the music. Although it is unfortunate that two lead players had to perform while sick, and the third couldn't make it, this show doesn't succeed or fail on individual performances.

The music deserves to be heard, and more recordings should be made of it. But sad to say, the fine team assembled by the Prince is unable to resuscitate a musical delivered DOA forty years ago.

For a different take on the production, based on a 2003 production in Los Angeles go here.

Anyone Can Whistle
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Charles Gilbert
Music Director: Sam Davis

Cast: Corbin Abernathy, Sharon Alexander, Dough Anderson, Jim Bergwall, Billy Bustamante, Amanda Harper, Joilet F. Harris, Matthew Hultgren, Melissa Kolczynski, Jarrod Lentz, Kathryn Lyles, Charles McCloskey, Crista Moore ( at 01/29 performance Taryn Cagnina played role), Nancie Sanderson, Jane Summerhays, Robert Tucker, Todd Waddington, Chuck Wagner, Copeland Woodruff
Costume Design: Stephanie Krause
Lighting Design: Christine Griffith
Sound Design: Nick Kourtides
Orchestra: Eric Ebbenga, Joseph Vettori, Todd Groves, Eugene Ciccimaro, Joseph Ciccimaro, Jamey Hines, Lisa Dunham, Joseph Fallon, Matt Gallagher, Dennis Wasko, Bob Suttman, Richard Genovese, Anthony Pirollo, Susan Lerner, Kevin MacConnell, Joseph Nero, Harvey Price, Evan Solot (suprv) Running time approx 2 hours with one 15 min intermission 01/26/05 - 02/06/05
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 01/29 performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
    Act I
  • Prelude.Orchestra
  • Me and My Town.Cora, Schub, Magruder, Cooley
  • Miracle Town.Cora, Schub, Magruder, Cooley, Townspeople
  • There Won't Be Trumpets.Fay
  • The Interrogation (Simple).Hapgood, Cora, Schub, Magruder, Cooley & Cookies
  • There's a Parade in Town.Cora, Townspeople
  • Come Play Wiz Me.Fay, Hapgood
  • Anyone Can Whistle.Fay
Act Two
  • Prelude.Orchestra
  • I've Got You to Lean On..Cora, Schub, Magruder, Cooley
  • Everybody Says Don't.Hapgood
  • See What It Gets You.Fay
  • Cookie Ballet.Cora, Cookies
  • With So Little to Be Sure Of.Fay, Hapgood
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