Rahul Sharma (Editor)

Anyone Can Whistle

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Lyrics  Stephen Sondheim
Composer  Stephen Sondheim
Lyricist  Stephen Sondheim
Book  Arthur Laurents
Playwright  Arthur Laurents
Anyone Can Whistle httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediaen336Any
Productions  1964 Broadway 1995 Carnegie Hall concert 2010 New York City Center Encores!
Characters  Fay Apple, Comptroller Schub, Treasurer Cooley
Similar  Stephen Sondheim plays, Musicals

Why did anyone can whistle flop

Anyone Can Whistle is a musical with a book by Arthur Laurents and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The story concerns a corrupt mayoress, an idealistic nurse, a man who may be a doctor, and various officials, patients and townspeople, all fighting to save a bankrupt town. This musical was Angela Lansbury's first stage musical role.



The show was first announced in The New York Times on October 5, 1961: "For the winter of 1962, [Arthur Laurents] is nurturing another musical project, The Natives Are Restless. The narrative and staging will be Mr. Laurent's handiwork; music and lyrics that of Stephen Sondheim. A meager description was furnished by Mr. Laurents, who refused to elaborate. Although the title might indicate otherwise, it is indigenous in content and contemporary in scope. No producer yet." No news of the show appeared until July 14, 1963, in an article in The New York Times about Kermit Bloomgarden, where it discussed the four shows he was producing for the coming season; two were maybes, two were definite. One of the latter was a Sondheim-Laurents musical (now named Side Show). In a letter to Bloomgarden, Laurents wrote, "I beg you not to mention the money problems or any difficulties to Steve anymore. It depresses him terribly and makes it terribly difficult for him to work... It is damn hard to concentrate ... when all the atmosphere is filled with gloom and forebodings about will the show get the money to go on? ... Spare him the gory details." This behavior is considered unusual for Laurents, which runs contrary to his current reputation. Sondheim discovered that Laurents hated doing backers' auditions and he took over that responsibility, playing and singing more than 30. They found 115 investors to back the $350,000 production, including Richard Rodgers and Sondheim's father.

Eager to work with both Laurents and Sondheim, Angela Lansbury accepted the lead role as Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper, despite her strong misgivings about the script and her ability to handle the score. Also signed were Lee Remick as Nurse Fay Apple and Harry Guardino as Hapgood. Laurents had wanted Barbra Streisand for the role of Fay, but she turned it down to star in Funny Girl. Following rehearsals in New York City, the company started pre-Broadway tryouts in Philadelphia from March 2 to 21, 1964. Laurents, ignoring criticism about the show's message being trite and its absurdist style difficult to comprehend, poured his energies into restaging rather than dealing with the crux of the problem.

The show suffered further setbacks when supporting actor Henry Lascoe, who played Comptroller Schubb, suffered a heart attack during the show's out-of-town tryout, and was replaced by Gabriel Dell. According to Sondheim, "Lansbury was so insecure onstage, and unhappy with her performance, that we considered replacing her. Ironically, it soon became apparent that it had been Lascoe, an old pro...who had made her feel like an amateur. The minute his much less confident understudy took over, she felt free to blossom, which she spectacularly did." Sondheim called the reviews "humiliating" and the audiences "hostile."


After multiple revisions, the show opened on Broadway on April 4, 1964, at the Majestic Theatre, where it closed after 9 performances and 12 previews, unable to overcome the generally negative reviews it had received. Scenic design was by William and Jean Eckart, costume design by Theoni V. Aldredge, and lighting design by Jules Fisher. Choreographer Herbert Ross received the show's sole Tony Award nomination.

The show became a cult favorite, and a truncated original cast recording released by Columbia Records sold well among Sondheim fans and musical theatre buffs. "There Won't Be Trumpets," a song cut during previews, has become a favorite of cabaret performers.

On April 8, 1995, a staged concert was held at Carnegie Hall in New York City as a benefit for the Gay Men's Health Crisis. The concert was recorded by Columbia Records, preserving for the first time musical passages and numbers not included on the original Broadway cast recording. For example, the cut song "There's Always A Woman" was included at this concert. Lansbury served as narrator, with Madeline Kahn as Cora, Bernadette Peters as Fay, and Scott Bakula as Hapgood. Additional cast included Chip Zien, Ken Page, and Harvey Evans, the only original cast member to reprise his role.

In 2003, Sony reissued the original Broadway cast recording on compact disc. Two revivals were staged that year, one in London, at the Bridewell Theatre, and one in Los Angeles, at the Matrix Theatre.

The Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, Illinois, presented a staged concert on August 26 and 27, 2005, with Audra McDonald (Fay), Michael Cerveris (Hapgood) and Patti LuPone (Cora).

On January 11, 2008, Talk Is Free Theatre presented the Canadian professional premiere (in concert) at the Gryphon Theatre in Barrie, Ontario, with a fundraiser performance on January 13 at the Diesel Playhouse in Toronto, Ontario. It starred Adam Brazier as Hapgood, Kate Hennig as Cora, Blythe Wilson as Fay, and Richard Ouzounian as Narrator, who also served as director. Choreography was by Sam Strasfeld. Additional cast included Juan Chioran as Comptroller Shub, Jonathan Monro as Treasurer Cooley, and Mark Harapiak as Chief Magruder. Musical direction was provided by Wayne Gwillim.

New York City Center Encores! presented a staged concert from April 8 through April 11, 2010, with Sutton Foster as Nurse Fay Apple, Donna Murphy as Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper, and Raul Esparza as Hapgood, with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw. The production was the second most attended in Encores! history, and Stephen Sondheim was present at the post-matinee talkback on April 10.

A London production of Anyone can Whistle opened at the Jermyn Street Studio Theatre, London, in association with Primavera Productions, running from March 10, 2010, to April 17, 2010. The director is Tom Littler, with Musical Director Tom Attwood, and a cast that includes Issy van Randwyck (Mayoress), Rosalie Craig (Nurse Fay Apple) and David Ricardo-Pearce (Hapgood).

A new production directed by Phil Willmott opened at the Union Theatre in London, running from February 8 through March 11, 2017.

Act 1

The story is set in an imaginary American town that has gone bankrupt. (Its former major industry was the production of an unidentified product that never wore out. Everyone has one now, and no one needs a replacement.) The only place in town doing good business is the local sanitarium, known as “The Cookie Jar,” whose inmates look much healthier than the disgruntled townspeople. ("I'm Like the Bluebird") All the money is in the hands of Cora Hoover Hooper, the stylish, ruthless mayoress and her cronies - Comptroller Schub, Treasurer Cooley, and Police Chief Magruder. Cora appears carried in a litter by her backup singers, and admits that she can accept anything except unpopularity (“Me and My Town”). The scheming Comptroller Schub, tells her that he has a plan to save her administration, and the town, promising “It's highly unethical.” He tells her to meet him at the rock on the edge of town. At the rock, a local mother, Mrs. Schroeder, tries to tell her child, Baby Joan, to come down from the rock, when Baby Joan licks it - and a spring of water begins flowing from it. The town instantly proclaims a miracle, and Cora and her council eagerly anticipate tourist dollars as they boast of the water's curative powers. ("Miracle Song") It is soon revealed to Cora that the miracle is a fake, controlled by a pump inside the rock. The only person in town who doubts the miracle is Fay Apple, an eternally skeptical young nurse from the Cookie Jar who refuses to believe in miracles. She appears at the rock with all forty-nine of the inmates, or “Cookies” in tow, intending to let them take some of the water. Schub realizes that if they drink the water and do not change, people will discover the fake. As he tries to stop Fay, the inmates mingle with the townspeople, until no one can guess who is who. Fay disappears, and hiding from the police, admits that she hopes for one miracle - for a hero who can come and deliver the town from the madness (“There Won't Be Trumpets”). Cora arrives on the scene with the Cookie Jar's manager, Dr. Detmold, but he says that Fay has taken the records to identify the inmates. He tells Cora that he is expecting a new assistant who might help them. At that moment a mysterious stranger, J. Bowden Hapgood, arrives asking for directions to the Cookie Jar. He is instantly taken for the new assistant. Asked to identify the missing Cookies, Hapgood begins questioning random people and sorting them into two groups, group A, and group one, but refuses to divulge which group is which. The town council becomes suspicious of this and try to force the truth out, but Hapgood questions them until they begin to doubt their own sanity. Cora is too caught up with his logic to care. (“Simple”) As the extended musical sequence ends, the lights black out except for a spotlight on Hapgood, who announces to the audience, “You are all mad!” Seconds later, the stage lights are restored. The stage set has vanished, and the cast is revealed in theater seats, holding programs, applauding the audience, as the act ends.

Act 2

As act two opens, the two groups are now in bitter rivalry over who is the normal group (“A-1 March”) Another stranger, a French woman in a feathered coat appears. It is really Fay Apple in disguise. She introduces herself as the Lady from Lourdes, a professional Miracle Inspector, come to investigate the miracle. As Schub runs off to warn Cora, Fay seeks out Hapgood in his hotel, and the two seduce each other in the style of a French romantic film. (“Come Play Wiz Me”) Fay tries to get Hapgood's help in exposing the miracle. Hapgood, however, sees through her disguise and wants to question her first. Fay refuses to take her wig off, and confesses to him that this disguise, left over from a college play, is the only way she can break out of her rigid and cynical persona. She begins to hope, however, that Hapgood may be the one who can help her learn to be free. (“Anyone Can Whistle”) Meanwhile, the two groups continue to march, and Cora, trying to give a speech, realizes that Hapgood has stolen her limelight. (“A Parade in Town”) She and Schub plan an emergency meeting at her house. Back at the hotel, Hapgood comes up with an idea, telling Fay to destroy the inmates' records. That way Fay can be free of them and they can stop pretending. When Fay is reluctant, Hapgood produces a record of his own - he is her fiftieth Cookie. He is a practicing idealist who, after years of attempted heroism, is tired of crusading and has come to the Cookie Jar to retire. Inspired by his record, Fay begins to tear the records up. As she does, the Cookies appear and begin to dance (“Everybody Says Don't”).

Act 3

Act three begins with Cora at her house with her council. Schub has put the miracle on hiatus, but announces that they can easily turn the town against Hapgood by blaming him for it. The group celebrates their alliance. (“I've Got You to Lean On”) A mob quickly forms outside the hotel, and Hapgood and Fay, still disguised, take refuge under the rock. Discovering the fraud, Cora and the council confront them. At that moment, Cora receives a telegram from the governor warning that if the quota of forty-nine cookies is not filled, she will be impeached. Schub tells her that since Hapgood never said who is normal or not, they can arrest anyone at random until the quota is filled. Fay tries to get Hapgood to expose the miracle, but he warns her no one will believe it is a fake, because it works as a miracle should. Fay wants his help stopping the Mayoress, but he refuses, since he is through with crusading. Although she knows she still isn't out of her shell, Fay angrily swears to go it alone. (“See What it Gets You”) As Cora and the police force begin rounding up Cookies, Fay tries to get the key away from the guards in an extended ballet sequence. (“The Cookie Chase”) As it ends, Fay is captured, and Dr. Detmold suddenly recognizes her. Fay tells the townspeople about the fake miracle, but the town refuses to believe her. Detmold tells Cora that even without the records, Fay can identify the inmates from memory. Cora warns that she will arrest forty-nine people, normal or not, and Fay, helplessly, identifies all the Cookies, except Hapgood. She tells him the world needs people like him, and Hapgood can't turn himself in. He asks Fay to come with him, but she still can't bring herself to break free. Parting ways, they reflect on what they briefly shared. (“With So Little to be Sure Of”) Word comes of a new miracle, two towns over, of a statue with a warm heart. Soon the town is all but deserted, and Cora is again upstaged. Again, Schub has the answer - since the Cookie Jar is still successful, they can turn the entire town into one big Cookie Jar! Cora realizes she and Schub are meant for each other, and they dance off together. As Fay resumes work, Detmold's real new assistant arrives, and Fay is horrified to realize that she is even more practical, rigid and disbelieving than Fay herself, and the new nurse marches the Cookies off to the next town to disprove the new miracle. Horrified at seeing what she might become, Fay returns to the rock calling for Hapgood. When he doesn't answer, she tries to whistle - and succeeds in blowing a shrill, ugly whistle. Hapgood appears again, saying 'That's good enough for me.' As they embrace, the water begins flowing from the rock - a true miracle this time. (Finale)

Musical numbers

(From the Broadway production)


  • * Denotes song being cut during Previews.
  • "There Won't Be Trumpets" was cut from the original production. It was recorded for the original Broadway cast recording but not included on the LP release; it was reinstated on a later CD release. The song is still included in the officially licensed scripts and scores for performance.
  • Added in the 1995 concert: "There Won't Be Trumpets"—Fay Apple; "There's Always A Woman"—Fay Apple and Cora
  • "Finale Ultimo" is attached to the end of "With So Little to Be Sure Of" on the Original Cast Recording.
  • Critical response

    Howard Taubman in his New York Times review wrote that Laurents's "book lacks the fantasy that would make the idea work, and his staging has not improved matters. Mr. Sondheim has written several pleasing songs but not enough of them to give the musical wings. The performers yell rather than talk and run rather than walk. The dancing is the cream."

    Steven Suskin wrote in his 2000 book about Broadway composers: The "fascinating extended musical scenes, with extended choral work, ... immediately marked Sondheim as the most distinctive theatre composer of his time. The first act sanity sequence ... and the third act chase ... are unlike anything that came before."


    Anyone Can Whistle Wikipedia