Perhaps not Sondheim’s most successful musical, boasting a run of only twelve previews and nine performances on Broadway, Anyone Can Whistle is a political, satirical comedy that embraces the ridiculous. It is known to leave some of the audience baffled and confused by the interval. However, in this new production at Southwark Playhouse, Director Georgie Rankcom has done a wonderful job of blending and embracing the show’s absurdity with its commentary on society and the role of individuality.
Set in a town where the Government desires to control everything and everyone, the evil (or brilliant) Mayoress decides she must control miracles too. Alex Young here shines as Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper and her performance carries the entire show. In this absurd world, every time Young walks on stage you feel immediately safe with her performance. The role was originated by Angela Lansbury, but Young gives her a run for her money, with stunning vocals and perfect comic timing. She has the audience wrapped around her little finger and hanging on her every word. One of the highlights of this production is the comic duo of Young with Danny Lane, who plays Comptroller Schub, right hand man to the Mayoress. These two have such a connection, it seems like they have been playing off each other for years.
Chrystine Symone has a difficult job, as everyone can almost hear Bernadette Peters singing ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ from the Carnegie Hall recording, but she approaches the song with a beautiful sensitivity, and gives the role of Nurse Fay Apple a youthful attitude other productions have not brought out. Jordan Broatch plays wonderfully alongside Symone as the energetic, philosophical Hapgood. In their professional debut Broatch shows they are a name to remember. They shone with charisma and light and it was hard to not to be drawn to them, even when they were not the centre of the action.
At first the decision to stage the show in a traverse setting felt confusing, with the actors ending up in a restricted playing space. However, within minutes I understood Designer Corry Shipp’s choice and praised her and Rankcom’s decision to create a space where the audience immediately become part of the action: I would, though, encourage anyone scared of interaction to not sit on the front row or else Alex Young may be after you! Shipp’s use of colour, bold patterns and simple set complement the show beautifully, creating Sondheim’s perfect world of colour and light.
Orchestrations by Charlie Ingles perfectly capture this stunning score performed through a smaller band, with the cast of just thirteen, led by Musical Director Natalie Pound, carrying the sound and weight of a cast of thirty.
I admit, even having watched the show I am still slightly confused by its entire plot line. But it is two hours of complete escapism and fun. Never have I seen such a bonkers show, and one where although not everything was understandable, I couldn’t help but smile!
Directed by: Georgie Rankcom
Musical Direction by: Natalie Pound
Choreography by: Lisa Stevens
New Orchestration by: Charlie Ingles
Set and Costume Design by: Cory Shipp
Lighting Design by: Alex Musgrave
Sound Design by: Justin Teasdale
Anyone Can Whistle plays at Southwark Playhouse until 7 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.