The Magnormos Sondheim Triptyche is over, withdrawals are setting in. When will I get my next Sondheim fix? Into the CD collection I go.
Last night was the final production – “Anyone Can Whistle”. Another of Sondheim’s lesser known and seldom performed musicals, and another Broadway flop!
It was Sondheim’s second produced Broadway show in which he wrote both music & lyrics, following the success of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”in 1962. It premiered on April 4 1964, and closed after only 9 performances. It was savaged by the critics of the day, and angry audiences walked out in droves – even talking back to the performers on stage.
It was the stage musical debut of Angela Lansbury and starred movie actress Lee Remick, in the role that director Arthur Laurents offered to the other Babs -Barbra Striesand who turned it down to do “Funny Girl”.
Whilst the show has its problems (mostly book), it also has many pleasures.
The plot revolves around a fictitious American town, ruled over by a corrupt Mayoress – Cora Hoover Hooper. With the help of her cronies she fakes a miracle to draw in tourists to make money and help the town out of it’s financial woes. Out to expose the fraud is a sweet natured nurse – Fay Apple, who looks after the local looney bin – the Cookie Jar, full of cookies of course – kooky! and kooky it certainly is.
The first half of the show is very absurdist and after the arrival of a new ‘psychiatrist’ – J. Bowden Hapgood, things spiral out of control. The second half calms down a little bit and is full of glorious Sondheim tunes.
Basically it’s relevant message is to mantain individuality in a conformist society. Poking fun at government, religion, psychiatry and lots more, it sure was an out there show when it had it’s premiere. Audiences weren’t ready for it, and with a weak book it is easy to see why it failed.
What it does have though is of course Sondheim’s wonderful score – aside from the ‘crazy’ numbers it is full of some of his most romantic songs and strong anthems – There’s A Parade In Town, With So Little To Be Sure Of, Everybody Says Don’t & the title tune, are all gems.
The Magnormos production should be admired for its ambitious undertaking, with a cast of pros and newcomers it was finely sung and well acted once more. Using a chorus of youngsters as the cookies/towns people was a lot of fun – with a nod to the hit TV series Glee perhaps?
Anne Wood was very good and hilarious as Cora the mayoress (though she managed to flub the end of ‘Parade In Town’), with Robert Grubb alongside as her main cohort they were responsible for a lot of nice comic touches.If only they had studied their scripts a bit more, perhaps they were busy leading up to the performance? It was very distracting.
Dan Humphries as Hapgood was excellent in voice and charming in character – his big number ‘Everybody Say’s Don’t’ was excellent.
The highlight of the cast was Patrice Tipoki as Nurse Fay Apple, she had a great belting voice and a sweetness that was spot on, I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of her in the future. Her rendition of ‘See What It Gets You’ was the big showstopper.
Overall it was an admirable attempt at a difficult show – hats off to director Aaron Joyner – founder of Magnormos.
And hats off to all the fine performers and musicians of all 3 shows in the triptyche – our own Sondheim birthday gift.