Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anyone Can Whistle

A legendary flop, Anyone Can Whistle ran for nine days in 1964. Did it fail because it was ahead of its time? Were the critics and audiences blinds to its brilliance? Uh, no. As the excellent production at Encores! reveals, it's just not a particularly good show. Could it have been saved by a better book than Arthur Laurents'? Possibly. The score is glorious, full of show stoppers ("Me and My Town," "Everybody Says Don't") and heartbreaking emotion ("Anyone Can Whistle," "With So Little to Be Sure Of"). The basic idea is an engaging old standby: crazy people being saner than sane people. The theme--live your life to the fullest--is vintage Broadway. But that book is a clunker, with weak jokes, badly delineated relationships, and unmotivated changes of heart. (In all fairness, Encores! did not present the entire book, so perhaps it is better than it seems in this production. However, reviews of the orginal production suggest that it is not). In addition to providing the mediocre book, Arthur Laurents directed the original production; if his work on West Side Story and Gypsy is any indication, his direction probably was no gift to the production. Luckily, the Encores! production is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, who maximizes the show's gifts and provides choreography that ranges from tongue-in-cheek hysterical to gorgeously emotional. The cast is superb. Raul Esparza plays Dr. Hapgood with complete commitment and the ability to renew songs that have been sung a thousand times by a thousand people. Sutton Foster delivers "There Won't Be Trumpets" with perfect fervor and "Anyone Can Whistle" with perfect simplicity. Donna Murphy, all knees and elbows, raises sheer unmitigated hamminess to an art form.

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