Make no mistake, the plot behind Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents’ Anyone Can Whistle has been done better, both before and since its original 1964 staging. And it will probably be done better again. You know, seeing as this ‘stranger comes into town and changes everyone’s view of themselves and the world around them while falling in love’ thing seems to be a favorite amongst musical theater writers.
Anyone Can Whistle hasn’t been revived on Broadway since the original ran for only nine performances, and after last night, I don’t think anyone is shocked. The book is…wonky, and sometimes because the book is wonky the songs don’t seem to fit quite right. Sondheim and Laurents appear to have thrown about 600 million ideas at the wall and kept the ones that stuck (which, lucky us, still left them with about 598 million ideas to fit into two-ish hours). Sadly, the combined smarts and savvy of those two crazy fools just couldn’t save Anyone Can Whistle from itself.
But let me tell you. A powerhouse cast—like the one Encores! has assembled this spring—comes pretty darn close.
Donna Murphy as Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper prowls that set in her dangerously high heels, chewing on scenery and making a mockery of like, every other Sondheim actress out there. (Sadly, she doesn’t get a really memorable, knockout song, which is almost as big a tragedy as the rest of the show itself.) Sutton Foster as Nurse Fay Apple sings the house down; to the point where halfway through “There Won’t Be Trumpets” you already know how amazing, how explosive, the applause is going to sound. And Raúl Esparza brings J Bowen Hapgood some leading man charm, a dash of silliness and his usual vocal insanity, so much so that I actually had tears in my eyes during “Everybody Says Don’t,” which isn’t exactly an emotional powerhouse of a song.
Sure, there were moments where I actually had to ask myself “what is happening on this stage right now?” or “are we still watching this number?” But somehow, despite it all, I had a great time last night. I have to credit that to a handful of showstopping performers bringing their showstopping best to the stage, even when the material they were handed was questionable at best.
Also, as an almost unrelated aside: Sutton Foster is the tallest drink of water in history. With like, seven miles of limbs. Casting opposite her must be a bitch. Actually, acting opposite her probably is too.
I mean, is it just me, or did Raúl have to bust out a pair of those Cuban heels to get within six inches of her height?
Photo Credit: BroadwayWorld.com