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Anyone Can Whistle – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Anyone Can Whistle – Original Broadway Cast Recording

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Synopsis

Nine Bright Nights On Broadway Before it opened at The Majestic Theater on Apri14, 1964, Anyone Can Whistle seemed one of the most promising new productions to arrive on Broadway that season. Billed as ‘a wild new musical,’ it is the story of a small bankrupt town which only a miracle could save, run by a corrupt Mayoress and her henchmen. The show wasn’t ‘based on’ or ‘adapted from’ anything else – in other words, it was fresh and inventive. Better yet, it was the brainchild of Stephen Sondheim, who had written music and lyrics, and Arthur Laurents, who contributed the book and direction – both members of the creative teams behind two of the biggest musicals in recent years: West Side Story in 1957 and Gypsy in 1958. It also marked the Broadway musical debut of two of Hollywood’s brightest stars, Lee Remick as Nurse Fay Apple and Angela Lansbury as Mayoress Cora Hoover. And to the mix leading man Harry Guardino making his musical bow as the charming seductor Hopgood and the white-hot choreographer Herbert Ross. With these luminous ingredients, how could it miss? It did, and the show closed a week later after nine performances. From the very beginning Anyone Can Whistle (it originally had received two different titles: “The Natives Are Restless” and “Side Show”) was plagued with problems. Initially, producer Kermit Bloomgarden had trouble raising the capital for the show. Laurents was quoted at the time as saying, ‘We did backers’ auditions for potential investors who said they thought it was funny and had good music but when we asked them for money, they said the show was too offbeat. (Offbeat it was, if you consider that the hit shows at the time were Hello Dolly! and Funny Girl.) Eventually, a fascinating team of investors including the elite of Broadway composers Richard Rodgers, Frank Loesser, Irving Berlin, Jule Styne, believed in Sondheim and Laurents. They felt it might work and put money into the show. But other problems befell the production – during the show’s tryouts in Philadelphia, supporting actor Henry Lascoe had a heart attack and was replaced by Gabriel Dell. Soon after, dancer Tucker Smith fell in the orchestra pit and landed on a musician who died the next week. There were even rumblings of replacing Angela Lansbury with Nancy Walker. Can you imagine Lansbury being rejected, fleeing back to Hollywood, and never attempting another musical? Broadway would have been deprived of the of the greatest musical theatre legends of all time, including her Tony Award®-winning performances as Mame, The Madwoman in Dear World, Rose in Gypsy and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. Broadway gypsy Harvey Evans who danced in Anyone Can Whistle and performed as one of the Mayoress’ boys, looks back fondly on the show. “It was the most intense job I ever had. The commitment to it was stronger than anything I have ever been involved with. Here were Sondheim, Laurents and Herbert Ross – all the great people you wanted to work for on Broadway; and, my God! Lansbury and Remick. We never questioned whether this was not going to be an immediate success. . . .” Even though most critics panned the show, many praised the score and Herbert Ross’s innovative choreography. “These were some of the most amazing dances ever seen on Broadway,” Evans states. ‘Unfortunately they were only seen for about a week. The ideas just flowed from him. They were wonderful, because we worked so hard every day in the out-of-town performances. What we wound up with was just incredible. “The Cookie Chase” ballet, where a dancer ran up the proscenium wall was mind-bogglingly good. It stopped the show, Herb Ross was at the height of his creativity. Evans also remembers Remick’s commitment to the show. “Nobody knew she was a dancer, and boy did she dance. There we were in rehearsals all day, rolling around on the stage. At five o’clock, we all looked at her. She was filthy dirty from just doing these rolls on this terrible stage, over and over, not knowing that this stuff was going to be thrown out, not complaining at all. Here was this big movie star with sweat pouring down her face and we thought ‘this is a great lady.’ She committed to this show like we all did. She knew the show was in trouble, but she didn’t pull any punches. She was at that point an ensemble dancer, dancing her ass off all day for Herb Ross, knowing that she had to do this starring performance at night.” At the height of her fame, Lee Remick had dropped out of a two-picture deal to come to Broadway and create the role of Fay Apple. Years later in 1988, when she presented Sondheim the Tony Award® for Into the Woods, she said, “Back in 1964, I got the chance to do my first Broadway musical. It had always been my favorite form of entertainment, but I never realized sitting out there how much work it all is. We struggled through rehearsals, learning the book and the score and the dances . . . new songs being put in . . . some songs taken out. When we finally opened in New York, we were all exhausted, but I have to say it was all worth it, because the run of that show was six of the happiest days of my life.” On a recent broadcast of the weekly television program Broadway Beat, Arthur Laurents reflected, “I have no regrets about it. Every memory is colored by another. The one that sticks, which is terribly sentimental, is closing night. In the last song there is lyric, ‘Crazy business this, this life we live in/Can’t complain about the time we’re given,’ and the actors onstage began to cry, and we, out in the audience began to cry, and the crying persisted. During curtain calls when Angie came out for her bow she just burst into tears. We all loved the show. Whatever its flaws may have been, and there were enough of them, we loved it.” The tragedy of Anyone Can Whistle was that it was ahead of its time and it didn’t find its audience. It was a non-traditional musical; most critics and audiences just didn’t understand the cynical nature of its book. But some reviewers found merits in the show, among them Martin Gottfried who called it, “fresh, new, and perfectly wonderful,” and John McClain who wrote, “Anyone can Whistle should enjoy a happy life: it is fey and fantastic, and I believe it will give you a happy escapist evening.” But it was Norman Nadel who said it the best, “Were I a less inhibited creature, I’d spend the next month hurling roses at the beautiful people of Anyone Can Whistle. You have no idea how many breathtaking surprises are in store for you. . . . At a time when even the good musicals look a little or a lot like something out of a recent season, it is exciting to encounter one so spectacularly original.” Today, many consider Anyone Can Whistle to be Sondheim’s bravest score. It has some beautiful ballads, including “With So Little To Be Sure Of” and the title song, both typical of Sondheim’s eloquent simplicity. Their lyricism pierces the heart. As Evans said, “People have accused Sondheim of not being melodic. Just listen to ‘With So Little To Be Sure Of.’ How can people say he doesn’t write with heart? And take the intricacies of the interrogation song called ‘Simple.’ ‘Me and My Town’ took us forever to get because it was so detailed with its harmonies. When we first heard ‘A Parade in Town’ we screamed and yelled. It’s one of Sondheim’s best songs and Angela did it so beautifully.” Anyone Can Whistle also broke new ground for the young composer-lyricist. His score of complete musical scene sequences, dissonant and electrifying music on pastiche numbers, foreshadowed his later works, notably Company, Follies, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd, all of which reshaped and redefined the American musical as we know it today. Though Anyone Can Whistle became one of the most mythic misfires in Broadway history, it was kept alive over the years because of the original cast album. It was recorded at the insistence of Goddard Lieberson, president of Columbia Records, who thought it an important show regardless of critical response. This expanded edition offers selections not on the original vinyl pressing, including “There Won’t Be Trumpets”, which was cut from the show in Philadelphia, and five bonus tracks of unreleased demo recordings from Stephen Sondheim’s personal collection. It is just pure Sondheim singing and playing his own songs. Of those, two are particularly interesting: “The Lame, the Halt and the Blind”, which was cut while showing outside New York, and “With So Little To Be Sure Of”, which has a different melody and different lyrics than the song that was heard in the final incarnation of the show. Today, Anyone Can Whistle has begun to enjoy a resurgence of sorts. New productions of it have been seen in Los Angeles and in London. In 1995, a star-studded benefit concert for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis was held at Carnegie Hall, narrated by Angela Lansbury and starring Bernadette Peters, Madeline Kahn and Scott Bakula. On the eve of that event, Lansbury reminisced about the original production, “I had never sung in a Broadway musical before, but Jerry Herman saw me in it and cast me as Mame. He believed that I could carry a musical even though there was much opposition from the producers. Anyone Can Whistle was probably one of Broadway’s most famous golden flops. It ran for nine performances, but no one who saw it ever forgot it.” – Richard Ridge is the host of the weekly television show Broadway Beat, which can also be seen on www.broadwaybeat.co

Credits

Sandwich Man: Jeff Killion Baby Joan: Jeanne Tanzy Mrs. Schroeder: Peg Murray Treasurer Cooley: Arnold Soboloff Chief Magruder: James Frawley Comptroller Schub: Gabriel Dell Cora Hoover Hoople: Angela Lansbury The Boys: Sterling Clark, Harvey Evans, Larry Roquemore, Tucker Smith Fay Apple: Lee Remick J. Bowden Hopgood: Harry Guardino Dr. Detmoid: Don Doherty George: Larry Roquemore June: Janet Hayes John: Harvey Evans Martin: Lester Wilson Old Lady: Eleonore Treiber Telegraph Boy: Alan Johnson Osgood: Georgia Creighton Cookies, Townspeople, Tourists: Susan Borree, Georgia Creighton, Janet Hayes, Bettye Jenkins, Patricia Kelly, Barbara Lang, Paula Lloyd, Barbara Monte, Odette Phillips, Hanne-Marie Reiner, Eleonore Treiber, Sterling Clark, Eugene Edwards, Harvey Evans, Dick Ensslen, Loren Hightower, Alan Johnson, Jeff Killian, Jack Murray, William Reilly, Larry Roquemore,Tucker Smith, Don Stewart, Lester Wilson