Playbill On-Line is hosting a theatre tour to London's West End the week of June 28-July 5. Log in daily to read reviews of the shows, as seen by dedicated theatregoers like yourself!
Our second day in London dawned clear, just in time for our guided tour to the classic highlights of London: Piccadilly Circus, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
We also saw some of the spots mentioned in our favorite plays: Sweeney Todd's Fleet Street, Charing Cross Road, Drury Lane, the spots so many dramatic moments in Shakespeare take place. We stood near the spot outside the Royal Opera (being renovated) and Covent Garden where the scenes of My Fair Lady are set.
After dinner in the elegant Palm Court of the Waldorf, we dodged pubs packed with soccer fans urgently following the Britain-Argentina "football" finals to the Aldwych Theatre to see the final preview of Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical, the revised Whistle Down the Wind.
Based on Mary Haley Bell's 1958 novel and a film that soon followed, Whistle is the story of three motherless farm children -- Brat, Poor Baby and Swallow, the eldest, who discover an escaped convict hiding in their barn. They demand to know who he is, and when he, startled, exclaims "Jesus Christ!," they take him at his word and believe the Second Coming is at hand. The story has been updated to 1959 and the locale switched from England to Louisiana by Lloyd Webber, along with lyricist Jim Steinman and co-librettist Patricia Knop and Gale Edwards (the latter replacing Hal Prince as director). Also, Swallow has replaced Brat as the central character, and she's been made slightly older than in the book, allowing for some romantic sparks between her and the convict (called only The Man), and between her and a local motorcycle-riding James Dean-type teen rebel. They and their young friends vow to keep "Jesus'" presence a secret from the grownups, to save "Him" from suffering the same fate a second time.
Songs include a melodic Webber ballad (the title song), a rousing march for the kids and their friends ("When Children Rule the World"), plus a Steinman aria ("A Kiss Is a Terrible Thing to Waste") that recalls his days writing for rocker Meat Loaf.
Here's how the Playbill On-Line critics-for-the-week reviewed Whistle Down the Wind:
Albert T. Kim of New York:
I think there needs to be more development of the characters. It's about the loss of innocence. I guess -- through him she's disillusioned and sort of grows up. She becomes a woman. She discovers there is evil in her community. The actress who played Swallow [Lottie Mayor] was excellent -- the best performance in the show. Marcus Lovett [as The Man] does a good job as well. The special effects are what you'd expect -- but not necessary. For me, over all, I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. A strong book is key to a good musical. Of all Andrew Lloyd Webber's shows, only one was a strong book musical -- Sunset Boulevard. This [Whistle Down the Wind is a new directions for him. He's willing to take on a different kind of story. He's making an effort to try something new. I respect that.
Helen Cyker of Florida:
I loved the music.
Evelyn Schentes of Texas:
Even for 1959, it's an unbelievable premise. If three kids can't keep a secret, how can 10 kids keep a secret? The second act wasn't near as bad as the first act. If I wanted to hear a lot of Meat Loaf music, I could have stayed home and listened to a Meat Loaf CD. I didn't like it -- but I'm delighted that we saw it.
Celeste Fried of Colorado:
This really is a children's story -- it's the way a child would see the world. That's the only way to appreciate it: from the point of view of a child.
Henriette Richman of Florida:
There are times when you can say, 'That's so typical of Andrew Lloyd Webber.' I flashed on Phantom. The performers are wonderful -- but will New York buy it?
Stanley Schentes of Texas:
Sometimes you pay the penalty for success. Especially in America, people are never satisfied to see you stay still or go backward. You always have to have a bigger success than last time. I think people are expecting him to have a huge hit.
Traceyrose Zappola of New York:
It was enjoyable -- but only a kid could believe that. I found it totally unbelievable. I would have enjoyed it more if I could have seen more. The theatre was too dark and too warm.
Ed Price of Texas:
I grew up in rural Louisiana, and I thought it was a wonderful story of innocence and hope. The music was magnificent. The lyrics were well-woven for the story. I predict the most memorable songs will be the songs the children sang. The staging was overwhelming in a good way. I enjoyed it very much, but I can't speak for how it will play in New York. I will say that that set needs to be in a larger theatre.
Celeste Fried of Colorado:
I enjoyed it very much. The music was lovely, the special effects were very dramatic. I think it was believable because it was set in a rural town in the 1950s. The preacher kept telling her to believe. I would recommend it if it comes to New York.
Grace Kent, New York:
I was very impressed that the children could speak with an American voice. But I was not impressed with the motorcycle. That was not an American motorcycle!
Jo Taylor Marshall of New Jersey:
I enjoyed it. It's a charming little show that will not play on Broadway. Broadway wants more exciting effects, more smash, more pizzazz. It didn't really hook you until the second act. It's faith, about innocence and youth. She [Swallow] brought out some of the good in him [The Man]. He wasn't entirely evil.
Kathleen Reinhardt of Texas:
Sheridan's [Morley, London critic who met with the group for dinner the first evening] description helped. I thought Act II was too long. The duet in the barn ["Nature of the Beast"] went on so much longer than it needed to. I liked the set -- even though I couldn't see all of it. The kids were the best part of the show.
Conrad Kester of Texas:
During the first half he's trying to introduce so many characters and plot. I don't think southern Louisiana was the best place for it. It's more Georgia than Louisiana.
Sandra Miron of Texas: I have a hard time with the idea that the young woman believed the convict was Jesus even though the loss of her mother left her emotionally vulnerable. The play raises some of the same questions that one may ask when challenging Christianity. I loved the special effects: the fire, the train, the way the sets moved. I just didn't buy the idea that the girl would believe the convict was Jesus, that she could be that gullible. Maybe it would be more credible with a younger actress.
Ronald Woan of Massachusetts:
I really disliked the first part. I thought the children were great. But I hated the snake charmer -- I hated all the adults. I liked Swallow in the first part. I think the title song is really good but the decibel level was too low. The way the set moved was just wonderful. It doesn't measure up to the rest of Andrew Lloyd Webber's work except for the set. And Swallow's part was really good.
Janelle Price of Texas:
I liked the way the portrayed the innocence of the children, the musical score -- the whole thing. I loved all the songs. They were very appropriate. I don't know if it's because I grew up in Louisiana, but I found it believable. The approach toward the way they treated the black characters was very accurate.
Tami Wilson of Delaware:
It had no point. It wasn't a love story, but you couldn't figure out what it was.
John Saxton of Delaware:
I enjoyed it. The sets were great. I thought the actors did a great job.
Lee Greenstein of New York:
I thought the sets were superb. The musical was good. It's so typically him [Andrew Lloyd Webber].
Gilbert Gabriel of New York:
Basically it was a shame to waste so much good music on such a weak book. I found a lot of the music sounded like it came from last night [Saturday Night Fever].
Ida Foster of New Jersey:
There's no way I would bring a child to it.
Mary Russo of New York:
I enjoyed the show but I didn't get the drift of the story until the second act. I don't think it could reach Broadway. Children wouldn't understand a lot of it.
Alice Pappalardo of New York:
I thought the children were great. The girl, to me, was so innocent. I think he [The Man] wanted to kiss her [Swallow] on the lips [in the show's climax] but then she moved her head at the last moment.
Lenora Albury of Florida:
The highlight of my evening was -- seeing Stacy Keach in the audience. I couldn't get into it in the first act. It never grabbed me. I didn't get interested until the second act.
Nunzio Zappola of New York:
I enjoyed the play but I didn't like the seats [orchestra, beneath the mezzanine, which cut off the top half of Peter J. Davison's two-level set]. It was a strange way to set up the scenery. Overall it was good, not fantastic. The best things was the scenery; the worst thing was, I couldn't see it."
Caroline Bonacci of New York:
I'm undecided. I liked the music . . . and the sets were good. But parts of it -- uneven is a good word. It's too long, too uneven.
After the performance, one member of our group went back into the Aldwych Theatre to retrieve a forgotten umbrella, and there spotted Lloyd Webber, Steinman and other members of the creative team sitting in the stalls (orchestra section), deep in discussion, details unreported.
Tomorrow: Fiona Shaw in the Royal National Theatre revival of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.