Anyone Can Whistle – Book by Arthur Laurents, Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Southwark Playhouse, the Large, 77 Newington Causeway, London SE1 to 7 May 2022. 2**. William Russell.

Of all the productions I have seen of this 1964 musical – after the critics saw it the show ran for nine performances – this is by far and away the worst. As always with musicals the book is the problem because Stephen Sondheim did come up with several songs that have entered into the canon of his greatest ballads. But the plot about Cora Hoover Hooper (Alex Young) the corrupt mayor of a small town facing economic ruin who invents a fake miracle to attract the tourists and exploits the lunatics from the Cookie Jar, the town asylum, who are under the care of repressed nurse Fay Apple (Chrystine Symone) until along comes a mysterious Dr Hapgood to upset everything and save Fay is whimsical, ill constructed, downright baffling and makes no sense at all. The show maybe cannot be saved by any director or cast, but this production fails on all counts, starting with the insane decision to stage it traverse fashion so that the songs get sung with the cast half the time with their backs to half the audience. They are all numbers that shout to be put over into the auditorium. It also means one gets no sense of where it is taking place – actually the town square. Add lumpen choreography, orchestrations lacking in subtlety and some of the ugliest costumes ever to grace the Southwark stage and had I been a paying customer I would have left at the interval. The original production had Angela Lansbury and Cor and Lee Remick as Fay and they couldn’t save it.
Ms Young is no comedienne, although she warbles loudly and rushes about a lot trying to whip up some laughs. Ms Symone does do justice to the title song, probably the best of a lot which incudes Everybody Says Don’t and There Will Be Trumpets. However, sweetly though she sings it, she does not resist the obligatory crescendo howl half way through which passes for how to put over a number on today’s musical stages. The rest of the cast toil hard and Jordan Bratch is an appealing Hapgood, the mystery man who ensures that Fay will someday whistle although he he managed to disperse her hangups so that she can whistle is anybody’s guess.
One can see no good reason for this young company attempting to inject life into this ancient show where so many others with greater experience of staging musicals have gone before and failed. This really is that rare thing – a dire night at the theatre, although not worth collecting for being so memorably awful.

Cora Hoover Hopper: Alex Young.
Nurse Fay Apple: Chrystine Symone.
J Bowden Hapgood: Jordan Broatch.
Comptroller Schub: Danny Lane./
Treasurer Conley: Samuel Clifford.
Chief of Police Magruder: Renan Tendoro.
Dr Detmold: Nathan Taylor.
Mrs Schroeder: Kathryn Akin.
Baby jean: Marisha Morgan.
John: teddy Hinde.
June: Hana Ljicho.
George: Shane Convery.
Martin: Hensen Tudtud.

Director: Georgie Rankcom.
Musical Director: Natalie Pound.
Choreographer: Lisa Stevens.
New orchestrations: Charlie Ingles.
SAet & Costume Design: Cory Shipp.
Lighting Designer: Alex Musgrave.
Sound Designer: Justin Teasdale.
Production photograph: Danny Kaan.

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