Andrew Lloyd Webber announced Feb. 10 that he is indefinitely delaying the Broadway opening of his new musical, Whistle Down the Wind.
The show, which concluded a two-month run at the National Theatre in Washington DC Feb. 9, had gotten mixed reviews, but had been doing strong business -- even breaking house records at the National.
Headlined "Whistle Down the Wind Will Not Open in 1997," a statement from the producers quotes Webber as saying, "I believe Whistle Down The Wind to be one of the strongest scores I have composed in many years. But I believe, possibly because it was originally conceived for the cinema, Whistle has not found its stage voice yet. I agree with those who feel it needs time for its creative team to stand back from it. It is far, far too good a musical to open on Broadway until it's truly ready."
Director Prince said of the musical's postponement, "I have to agree that more time is required than we currently have available to us to complete the work we all know must be done." Prince will go directly into rehearsing the Broadway revival of Candide, scheduled to open April 29.
On Feb. 21, production spokesperson Adrian Bryan-Brown told Playbill On-Line there was no further information at this time about the future of Whistle Down The Wind. Lyricist Jim Steinman added that although the show broke box office records in Washington DC, "it's a few heartbeats away from sensational. We're working on getting those heartbeats right. But the current schedule, for many reasons, was proving...a bit of an obstacle. Creative work continues, more intensely than ever... Over the last nine days, two new songs have been written that are as good as anything I've ever worked on, with anybody."
Whistle originally had announced an April Broadway opening, but then postponed that date until June 15, thus missing out on 1997 Tony Award consideration. The production will now not open until 1998 at the earliest. It is unknown whether the current cast -- including Davis Gaines, Irene Malloy, Timothy Nolen, Lacey Hornkohl and Steve Scott Springer -- will rejoin the production then. The musical puts on hold the Broadway return for star Gaines, who left the title role of Broadway's Phantom of the Opera to take the Whistle role. Cynthia Ridge, spokesperson for Gaines, said that although the actor hasn't yet had time to make many plans, he does have a sold-out, upcoming concert in Orlando, FL.
Whistle spokesperson John Barlow told Playbill On-Line Jan. 10 that cast members have been asked not to speak to the press. "Besides," he said, "12 hours ago they were told `we're not going to Broadway.' I doubt they've had time to make any plans other than being en route from Washington DC."
Calling the move a "delay," a press release issued by The Really Useful Company offers no future dates for production, though Webber spokesman Peter Brown told Playbill On-Line the show would be going forward. Brown would not elaborate further: "We've all agreed not to say anything more than what's in the press release."
When the Broadway opening was first pushed back to June, Edgar Dobie, president of producer Really Useful Company, told the press, "As always planned, Whistle Down the Wind will go back into rehearsals after the DC run. The revised schedule will give the authors and the director enough time to complete the changes to the book and score and to rehearse and fully stage the new material." Now that the show has been delayed further, Dobie says, "We have accepted the fact that a creative respite is the best way forward. We serve no one's needs by forcing our production to move forward when it is not ready to do so."
To read what other Playbill On-Line members thought of the Washington tryout, please see "Playbill Critics Circle: Review 'Whistle' in DC" in Theatre News.
One Playbill On-Line user who attended the final performance in DC gave the following account. "I went to opening night, liked it so much that I took my daughter, who is also an actress, to see it before it closed, literally. (We attended closing night.) We went backstage afterwards to say hello. We were told that they were having a meeting on stage (after curtain call) and that it would be a few minutes before they could come out. When the actors emerged, there were solemn faces and tears. I thought it was because it was closing night in DC. Then one of the actors said, in tearful tones, 'Did you hear that we're not going to Broadway?' He pulled out a letter with Hal Prince's letterhead that had 2-3 typewritten lines, which I did not read, that basically said that WDW was indefinitely postponed. Everyone was devastated! It was so sad.
The good that has come out of it, and I hope I'm not sounding too selfish, is that it was a lesson learned for my daughter and myself, that this business is an ongoing roller coaster. I look forward to reading why WDW closed. The music was really good. As we were walking out of the theatre, my daughter said, 'I LOVED the music! When can we buy the soundtrack?' I guess she knows the answer now."
Aside from his Oscar nomination for "You Must Love Me" in the film of Evita, Webber has been having a rocky 1997. Within two weeks, it was announced that his Sunset Boulevard was closing in London and on Broadway. Also, his production company, Really Useful, announced that it was laying off more than a dozen employees in London, with rumors flying (and officially denied) that there will be layoffs in the New York office as well. Also, there had been hopes that Evita would be nominated for Best Picture. It wasn't -- though the film has been doing strong business at the box office.
Several other major musicals have postponed their openings in recent weeks. Among them, the new Stephen Sondheim musical, Wise Guys, which was to have opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, but which has pushed back the premiere until at least the 1997-98 season, according to librettist John Weidman.
For the record Whistle Down the Wind played six previews and 70 regular performances at the National Theatre.