I can see why the Broadway run of Anyone Can Whistle back in 1964 was so short-lived – it’s not a bad show, really, but it’s not the sort of show that would ever succeed on the Great White Way, or indeed in London’s West End. It’s too quirky and too absurd for larger theatres, but in smaller spaces like the Union Theatre, hosting this production, or the Jermyn Street Theatre, where a previous production ran in 2010, it works well, with a sort of grittiness and edginess far removed from the polished glitz and glamour of the bigger theatres.
The level of satire in this musical is almost on a par with that of Urinetown, and both are set in a dystopian town brought to its knees by political corruption. As is typical of Stephen Sondheim musicals, there’s a lot contained in some very wordy lyrics. The themes, probably because of the largely mocking nature in which they presented, don’t feel as though are as deep and philosophical as other musicals in the Sondheim repertoire. Even the plot is surprisingly flimsy.
Felicity Duncan’s Cora Hoover Hooper, Mayoress of the (unnamed and undesignated, but given the accents deployed here, presumably American) town, is one of those larger than life characters, hammed up in this production and so bombastic one cannot help but draw a broad comparison between her and you-know- who in the White House. She’s one of those strangely loveable antagonists. For reasons (sort of) explained in the narrative, Cora’s administration has decided that a whole load of people should be certified insane: the whole thing is, as a director’s note in the show’s programme puts it, “absolutely bonkers”.
It got to the point where, as was the case with Moby Dick the Musical that played in the same venue a few months before, I wasn’t entirely clear what exactly was going on. This, as it did in that other show, added to the fun of it – I don’t think it was a clear cut case of the lunatics having taken over the asylum, but then, as the musical number Simple puts it, “No one’s always what they seem to be,” and with mental illness so imprecisely defined, or at least unclearly explained, by Hapgood (Oliver Stanley), it wasn’t even clear who were the truly ‘insane’.
There were at least two big ensemble song-and-dance numbers to be enjoyed. A 12-strong ensemble support the seven performers with named characters (actually, all of the ensemble are named at one point by Nurse Apple (Rachel Delooze), but I’ll keep faith with the provided cast list) very well. It takes some skill to have that many people in a relatively small performance space and have it not feel cluttered, but this production pulls it off marvellously. The sound between the band and the performers was well balanced, despite (or maybe because of) the cast singing unamplified.
This sort of musical will really not be to everyone’s taste, but in its refreshing lack of political correctness and ever-increasing levels of ridiculousness, it’s a musical best enjoyed very, very open-minded. Just go with the flow as best you can. A peculiar and perplexing production, delivered with passion by a cast that seems to relish leaving their audiences ever so slightly puzzled.
Review by Chris Omaweng
FELICITY DUNCAN plays the unscrupulous mayoress. Her major musical theatre roles include Liza Minnelli in Bill Kenwright’s tour of the new Richard Harris comedy Liza, Liza, Liza, Rosie in the International tour of Mamma Mia and Anya in Fiddler on the Roof at the London Palladium opposite Topol.
OLIVER STANLEY plays the quirky psychiatrist Hapgood. He played his first lead role last year as Lord Marlborough in Phil Willmott’s new musical Princess Caraboo at the Finborough Theatre and is a regular soloist with The Musical Theatre Orchestra
RACHEL DELOOZE plays the rebellious psychiatric nurse Fay Apple. She played her first lead role last year as Sonia in the Toyah Wilcox musical of Crime and Punishment at the Scoop a role she will reprise later this year in the forthcoming film.
Playing towns folk and asylum inmates are – JAMES HORNE (Schub) RICHARD FOSTER KING (Detmold) MARK GARFIELD (Cooley) CHRISTOPHER LAISHLEY (Magruder) with ALESSANDRO LUBRANO, JOE MILLER, MICHAEL LARCOMBEABBEY ADAMS, ISABEL WROE WRIGHT, KATE HURLEY, NATALIE THORN, MITCHEL LAITHBURY, JOEY WARNE, LAURA PICK, TOM MUSSELL, VICTORIA-LOUISE CURRIE.
Season Director PHIL WILLMOTT, Production Management TOBY BURBIDGE, Costume Design PENN O’GARA, Musical Director RICHARD BAKER, Choreographer HOLLY HUGHES, Casting Director ADAM BRAHAM, Production Photographer, SCOTT RYLANDER
8th February – 11th March 2017
Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Saturday and Sunday at 2.30pm
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