Philadelphian Charles Gilbert, who wrote the 1979 musical Assassins, which inspired Sondheim to write his own musical on the same subject, directs the new revival of the famous 1964 flop, which is beloved by fans of Sondheim for its passion and sense of daring. (The presentation will be the 2003 two-act, licensed version of the show.)
The original cast, including Angela Lansbury and Lee Remick, recorded an album for it 40 years ago, exposing the work to future generations and earning the show its cult status. Tunes in the show include the title song, "There Won't Be Trumpets," "Everybody Says Don't," "Me and My Town," "With So Little to Be Sure Of" and more. Laurents wrote the libretto, Sondheim the music and lyrics.
Anyone Can Whistle is "a multi-themed musical set in the fictional town of Hooperville," a bankrupt town trying to pull itself from ruins, where the only solvent institution is the local mental hospital, known as The Cookie Jar, according to the Prince, the resident Philly troupe devoted exclusively to musicals. This marks the first Sondheim show at the theatre named for longtime Sondheim collaborator Harold Prince.
In the show, the corrupt Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper (Jane Summerhays) and her council develop a scheme to stage a miracle in order to drum up business and tourists. When mental-asylum nurse Faye Apple (Moore) and the suspect psychiatrist J. Bowden Hapgood (Wagner) realize the council's scheme, they try and expose them for the charlatans they are, only to discover that the insane are not just in the asylum, but all around them.
"In the end, it's the rare triumph of the few over the many, and how individual integrity can be maintained in a conformist — albeit nutty — society," according to Prince Theater notes. In 1964, the show took shots at conformity, mental health, war, politics and other subjects, ending up a rueful and somewhat absurdist satire of the modern world. Sam Davis (a Broadway pianist and conductor and himself a Jonathan Larson Award-wining music theatre composer) will serve as musical director.
Opening night is Jan. 29.
The production includes a cast of 19, including Jim Bergwall (Controller Schub), Doug Anderson (Treasurer Cooley), Charles McCloskey (Chief of Police Magruder), Todd Waddington (Narrator/Dr. Detmold et al.), Joilet Harris (Cookies' Nurse), Brett Abernathy, Sharon Alexander, Billy Bustamante, Amanda Harper, Matt Hultgren, Melissa Kolczynski, Jarrod Lentz, Kathryn Lyles, Nancie Sanderson, Robert Tucker and Copeland Woodruff.
The orchestra of 20 will feature an accordion and a string section made up of only cellos.
Anyone Can Whistle was revived in a starry concert benefit that was recorded in 1995. Madeline Kahn played Cora, Bernadette Peters was Faye. Laurents worked on a revision of the show that played London in early 2003 and made its U.S. debut around the same time, in a tiny Los Angeles production that starred Ruth Williamson. It's that version that's licensed.
Tickets range $24-$52. Performances play Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 PM, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and matinees Saturdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 3 PM.
For more information, call Prince Music Theater at (215) 569-9700 or visit www.princemusictheater.org.
The February 2003 staging in L.A. was billed as the "U.S. premiere of the first sanctioned revision of the original 1964 Broadway musical, approved by Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim," and offered a newly organized two-act script (rather than the original three) that was also used in London production of the show that opened in January 2003 under the direction of Laurents.
According to his website, www.chasgilbert.com, "composer, lyricist and dramatist Charles Gilbert is a writer, director, composer and educator who specializes in the musical theatre. Currently associate professor and head of the musical theatre program at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Gilbert has worked with National Music Theater Network, Prince Music Theater (formerly the American Music Theater Festival), Gretna Theater, Delaware Theater Company, Opera Delaware, Covered Bridge Theater and other professional theatres as director or musical director for a variety of musical productions.
"Among his credits as a writer and composer is the 1979 musical Assassins, source of the idea for the Stephen Sondheim musical which premiered in New York in 1991.
His musical B.G.D.F. was seen in New York in 1983 in a showcase starring Gregg Edelman. His children's musical, A Is for Anything, commissioned by the Delaware Institute for the Arts in Education, has been performed nearly a hundred times for thousands of children in Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, and was selected as a finalist in the Buxton Quest for New Musicals in 1992. His cabaret revue, Watch The Birdie, was performed at Don't Tell Mama in New York and The Actors Center in Philadelphia in 1993, and a revised version was presented at the Philadelphia Arts Banks and the Douglas Fairbanks Theater in 1998."
Gilbert holds an MFA in directing from Carnegie Mellon University and is a former member of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop.
Gemini, the Musical, his collaboration with Albert Innaurato, premiered at the Prince in 2004.