Thursday, March 31, 2011

Anyone Can Whistle

"Anyone Can Whistle" presented by Encores! at New York City Center, April 11, 2010

(Looking back for a link to another review, I discovered that this one never got published.  A year later, here it is! - M)

Playing along the Sondheim tributes of the season, Encores! presents Mr. Sondheim's biggest flop, which ran for 9 performances in 1964.  Originally written and directed by Arthur Laurents, the legend of the bizarre production proves true.  The twisting tale of a failing town led by a corrupt mayor, capitalizing on a phony miracle and offering period-enthrallment with the concept that crazy equals genius.

The book really is a train wreck.  You could practically see the question marks appearing over every head in the audience as one ludicrous plot turn followed another.

Donna Murphy pulls out all the stops as the ambitious and shady mayoress, Cora Hoover Hooper.  In a Jackie O suit and blond wig, the effect ranges from Mitzi Gaynor to Judy Garland, but the energy is non-stop regardless.  Sutton Foster struggles under the weight of the strangely written Nurse Apple, who can only relax in the guise of a French hooker.  She sings well, better in her character's more vulnerable moments.  Raul Esparza fares a little better as J. Bowden Hapgood, looking dapper in a sharkskin suit.

Still, Mr. Sondheim's score rings through clearly, skillfully led by musical director Rob Berman.  Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw wisely spends little time trying to make sense of the book scenes, but focuses on the musical numbers to delightful effect.

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