Review: Anyone Can Whistle (Southwark Playhouse)

Even a minor Sondheim has something to recommend it, and ticking this one off leaves just two of his shows left for me to see live.

My knowledge of Anyone Can Whistle was confined to the three numbers included in the Side by Side revue, so clearly hearing them within the stage production was a source of some interest.

The plot, such as it is, concerns a small town led by a Mayoress part Cruella de Vil, part Margaret Thatcher, which has been abandoned by all but a group of “cookies” and three officials rather resembling those in the operetta The Mikado.

Everything is heightened down to the bright set and costume colours (by Cory Shipp) and the acting, which means the cast have an absolute ball prancing and dancing and milking every moment in Arthur Laurents’s witty book. These days, a long way from the 1960s hippy vibe, the best approach is firmly tongue-in-cheek.

The cast of Anyone Can Whistle

If there is a plot it could be about tolerance for others and a belief in miracles, real or otherwise. It could be about finding oneself, wanting to loved, or simply learning to whistle.

The cast is led by Alex Young and comprises a number of recent graduates, some gender-fluid. They are an energetic bunch, caught up in the moment and gently teasing out more outlandish turns of phrase and plot.

Composed between A Funny Thing Happened … and TV musical Evening Primrose, this show feels as if it is Sondheim still feeling his way, finding his voice. It isn’t quite juvenila, but it isn’t yet the master wholly secure in his ability to create a serious musical alone. Now and again a lyric tanks, but the title track is sublime, as is There Won’t Be Trumpets (both sung with heart by Chrystine Symone).

Is Anyone Can Whistle worthy of this first major revival since its premiere back in 1964? Emphatically yes. You will be thoroughly entertained by a dynamic leading lady and some rising stars (Teddy Hinde, Hana Ijicho, Renan Teodoro, and most notably Jordan Broatch, making their debut as the bouncy, messianic Hapgood who transforms the town).

The cast of Anyone Can Whistle

Elsewhere in the cast there are fine comic turns from Danny Lane, Samuel Clifford, and Shane Convery, supported by the exuberance of Jensen Tudtud, Marisha Morgan, Kathryn Akin and Nathan Taylor as a punk-style doctor.

Director Georgie Rankcom’s staging means there is constant movement along a Carnaby catwalk, breaking of the fourth wall, and a party atmosphere. The audience (set either side on the stage) is constantly invaded and often involved, which gives the piece a conspiratorial air and a sly wink to how silly it all is.

Praise, too, for the band under MD Natalie Pound, the choreographer (Lisa Stevens), the lighting designer (Alex Musgrave), and all at Grey Area Theatre Company, who bring this show to life – the first revival of Sondheim’s work since his passing.

Anyone Can Whistle plays in Southwark Playhouse’s Large auditorium until 7 May – book your tickets here.

****

Image credit: Danny Kaan

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