Anyone Can Whistle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Anyone Can Whistle
Cover of the original cast recording.
MusicStephen Sondheim
LyricsStephen Sondheim
BookArthur Laurents
Productions1964 Broadway
1995 Carnegie Hall concert
2010 New York City Center Encores!
2022 Off-West End

Anyone Can Whistle is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents. Described as "a satire on conformity and the insanity of the so-called sane,"[1] the show tells a story of an economically depressed town whose corrupt mayor decides to create a fake miracle in order to attract tourists. The phony miracle draws the attention of an emotionally inhibited nurse, a crowd of inmates from a local asylum, and a doctor with secrets of his own.

Following a tryout period in Philadelphia, Anyone Can Whistle opened at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway on April 4, 1964. The show received widely varied reviews (including negative notices from the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune),[2] and closed after a run of 12 previews and 9 performances.[3] The show's original run marked the stage musical debut of Angela Lansbury.[4]

In the decades since its closing, Anyone Can Whistle has seen relatively few productions compared to other Sondheim musicals; notable productions include a 1995 concert version at Carnegie Hall, a pair of stagings in London and Los Angeles in 2003 that incorporated revisions, and a 2010 concert staging for the Encores! program at New York City Center.[5] However, its score has become acclaimed as a part of Sondheim's canon, and songs such as the title tune, "Everybody Says Don't", and "There Won't Be Trumpets" have been performed widely.


Lee Remick, Angela Lansbury, Harry Guardino, and Herbert Greene

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."[6] 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).[6] 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.[6]

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.[7] 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."[8]


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 negative notices from major papers such as the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune. 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 recording by the original cast 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.[9]

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 recording by the original Broadway cast. 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 cast member from the original show to reprise his role.[10]

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.[11]

The Ravinia Festival presented a staged concert on August 26 and 27, 2005, with Audra McDonald (Fay), Michael Cerveris (Hapgood) and Patti LuPone (Cora).[12]

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.[13]

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.[14] The production was the second most attended in Encores! history, and Stephen Sondheim was present at the post-matinee talkback on April 10.[15]

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).[16][17]

Porchlight Music Theatre presented Anyone Can Whistle in 2013 as a part of "Porchlight Revisits" series, in which it staged three forgotten musicals per year. It was directed by Christopher Pazdernik and music directed by Aaron Benham.[18]

A new production directed by Phil Willmott opened at the Union Theatre in London, running from February 8 through March 11, 2017.[19]

A concert presentation of the show was presented by MasterVoices, under the direction and baton of Ted Sperling, on March 10, 2022 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. This production featured Vanessa Williams (Cora Hoover Hooper), Santino Fontana (J. Bowden Hapgood), Elizabeth Stanley (Fay Apple), Douglas Sills (Comptroller Schub), Eddie Cooper (Treasurer Cooley), and Michael Mulheren (Police Chief Magruder). [20] Joanna Gleason served as the narrator for the event [21]

A production of the show ran at the Southwark Playhouse in London from April 1, 2022 to May 7, 2022 under the direction of Georgie Rankcom, with musical direction by Natalie Pound and choreography by Lisa Stevens. The show’s cast featured Alex Young as Cora Hoover Hooper, Chrystine Symone as Nurse Fay Apple, and Jordan Broatch as J. Bowden Hapgood. This production was the largest staged version of the show since its debut on Broadway in 1964.[22][23]


Act 1[edit]

The story is set in an imaginary American town that has gone bankrupt. (Its former major industry was 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 mental asylum, 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 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, a skeptical but idealistic young nurse from the Cookie Jar. 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 remain insane, people will discover the fraud. 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 a hero to deliver the town Cora and her lackeys (“There Won't Be Trumpets”). Cora arrives on the scene with the Cookie Jar's manager, Dr. Detmold, who 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, without divulging which group is the sane one. The town council becomes suspicious, but Hapgood simply 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, and the cast is revealed in theater seats, holding programs, applauding the audience, as the act ends.

Act 2[edit]

As Act II opens, the two groups are now in a bitter rivalry over who is the sane 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, who has 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, leftover from a college play, is the only way she can break out of her shell. 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 Cookies' records, so both they and Fay can be free. 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[edit]

Act III begins with Cora at her house with her council. Schub has put the miracle on hiatus but announces that they can easily pin the blame on Hapgood. The group celebrates their alliance. (“I've Got You to Lean On”) A mob 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 49 cookies is not filled, she will be impeached. Schub tells her that since Hapgood never said who is sane or not, they can arrest anyone at random until the quota is filled. Hapgood refuses to help Fay stop the Mayoress since he has given up 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 to the wagon from the guards in an extended ballet sequence. (“The Cookie Chase”) As it ends, Fay is captured, and Dr. Detmold 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. They regretfully part ways. (“With So Little to Be Sure Of”) Word comes of a new miracle from the town beyond the valley, of a statue with a warm heart, and the townspeople, including Magruder and Cooley, rush off to see if it is real. Soon the town is all but deserted, and Cora is alone again. Again, Schub has the answer - 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 Jane Borden Osgood arrives, and Fay is horrified to realize that she is even more 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)

Notable casts[edit]

Character Broadway Off-Off-Broadway British Premiere Carnegie Hall Concert Encores! Carnegie Hall Revival Off-West End
1964 1980 1986 1995 2010 2022
Cora Hoover Hooper Angela Lansbury Gaylea Byrne Pip Hinton Madeline Kahn Donna Murphy Vanessa Williams Alex Young
Fay Apple Lee Remick Rosemary McNamara Marilyn Curtis Bernadette Peters Sutton Foster Elizabeth Stanley Chrystine Symone
J. Bowden Hapgood Harry Guardino Gary Krawford Michael Jayes Scott Bakula Raúl Esparza Santino Fontana Jordan Broatch
Comptroller Schub Gabriel Dell Sam Stoneburner Bill Bradley Walter Bobbie Edward Hibbert Douglas Sills Danny Lane
Treasurer Cooley Arnold Soboloff Ralph David Westfall John Griffiths Chip Zien Jeff Blumenkrantz Eddie Cooper Samuel Clifford
Police Chief Magruder James Frawley David Berk Jonathan Stephens Ken Page John Ellison Conlee Michael Mulheren Renan Teodoro
Mrs. Schroeder Peg Murray Ileane Gudell Hilary Cromie Maureen Moore Linda Griffin ??? Kathryn Akin
Dr. Detmold Don Doherty Kermit Brown Thom Booker Nick Wyman Patrick Wetzel ??? Nathan Taylor
Cora's Boys Sterling Clark, Harvey Evans, Larry Roquemore and Tucker Smith Stephan DeGhelder, Bill Hastings, Stephen Hope and David E. Mallard Michael Gyngell, Dermot McLaughlin, Alan Mosley, Neil Patterson Sterling Clark, Harvey Evans, Evan Pappas, Eric Riley and Tony Stevens Clyde Alves, Grasan Kingsbury, Eric Sciotto and Anthony Wayne ???

Musical numbers[edit]

(from the Broadway production)


  • Asterisk (*) denotes song cut during Previews.
  • Despite being cut from the original production, "There Won't Be Trumpets" was nonetheless recorded for the original Broadway cast recording, though it remained unreleased until a 1989 remastered CD. Officially licensed scripts and scores now reinstate the song.[24]
  • The 1995 concert production restored the songs "There Won't Be Trumpets" (Fay Apple) and "There's Always a Woman" (Fay and Cora), both previously cut.
  • "Finale Ultimo" is attached to the end of "With So Little to Be Sure Of" on the Original Cast Recording.

Critical response[edit]

Howard Taubman in his The 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."[25]

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."[26]

Stuart King writing for London Box Office (April 2022) noted: "Southwark Playhouse (with Guildford graduate Georgie Rankcom at the directorial helm for this gender-fluid production) has resurrected the piece for a short run — just in time for Easter! But the burning question on Press Night was whether or not the cult 60s show would need a miracle to find a new, modern fan base, OR, have the subjects of political corruption, sexual identity and mental wellbeing potentially given the fundamentally flawed piece new meaning for a young and previously unfamiliar audience? This reviewer’s answer would be that it will almost certainly depend entirely on who you are, how you identify (if indeed you bother with such matters), whether corruption in public office bothers you (why wouldn’t it?) and probably most significantly of all, whether you consider yourself a Sondheim purist/aficionado/devotee."

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
1964 Tony Award Best Choreography Herbert Ross Nominated


  • Balancing Act, The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury by Martin Gottfried, published byLittle, Brown and Company, 1999


  1. ^ Mandelbaum, Ken (1991). Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops. p. 128.
  2. ^ Mandelbaum, Ken (1991). Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops. p. 129.
  3. ^ "Anyone Can Whistle - Internet Broadway Database". Internet Broadway Database.
  4. ^ Paulson, Michael (2022-05-23). "Angela Lansbury Will Receive Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  5. ^ "Sondheim Guide / Anyone Can Whistle". Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  6. ^ a b c Horowitz, Mark Eden (2010). "Really weird". The Sondheim Review. Sondheim Review, Inc. XVII (2): 7. ISSN 1076-450X. Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2011-10-01.
  7. ^ Laurents, Arthur. Original Story By -: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood. Hal Leonard Corporation, 2001, ISBN 1-55783-467-9, p. 244
  8. ^ Sondheim, Stephen. Anyone Can Whistle. Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) With Attendant Comments..., Random House Digital, Inc., 2010, ISBN 0679439072, p.111
  9. ^ Citron, Stephen. Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber: The New Musical (2001). Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0-19-509601-0, pp. 128, 131
  10. ^ " Anyone Can Whistle – Live at Carnegie Hall 1995", accessed October 12, 2019
  11. ^ "Sondheim Guide Listing."
  12. ^ Olson, John. " Anyone Can Whistle, Ravinia Festival"., August 29, 2005
  13. ^ Talk Is Free Theatre
  14. ^ Gans, Andrew (8 April 2010). "'Is a Parade in Town?': Anyone Can Whistle Plays City Center April 8-11". Playbill. Retrieved 2 January 2022.
  15. ^ Finkle, David. "Talk back with Sondheim.", April 12, 2010
  16. ^ Shenton, Mark (December 30, 2009). "Anyone Can Whistle Will Play London's Jermyn Street Theatre March 10-April 17". Playbill. Retrieved 2 January 2022.
  17. ^ "Listing.", Retrieved March 20, 2010.
  18. ^ "Porchlight Debuts Its New Series 'Porchlight Revisits...' with ANYONE CAN WHISTLE on Sept. 25 at 8 p.m." 19 July 2013. Archived from the original on 16 May 2018. Retrieved 2018-05-15.
  19. ^ Willmott, Phil (11 February 2017). "Discover a little known, early piece by musical theatre genius, Stephen Sondheim".
  20. ^ "Santino Fontana, Elizabeth Stanley, More Will Join Vanessa Williams in Stephen Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle at Carnegie Hall".
  21. ^ "Joanna Gleason to Narrate Anyone Can Whistle Concert at Carnegie Hall".
  22. ^ "Cast Complete for London Revival of Stephen Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle".
  23. ^ Lawson, Mark. 'Sondheim flop gets a blazing revival', in The Guardian, 6 April, 2022
  24. ^ MTI licensing page
  25. ^ Taubman, Howard. "Review", The New York Times, April 6, 1964, p. 36
  26. ^ "Show Tunes: The Songs, Shows, and Careers of Broadway's Major Composers" (2000), Steven Suskin, Oxford University Press, p. 278 ISBN 0-19-512599-1

External links[edit]