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Theatre / Anyone Can Whistle

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Anyone Can Whistle is a three-act 1964 musical with a book by Arthur Laurents and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It was the second show to feature Sondheim writing his own music as well as lyrics.

It tells the story of a destitute town, run by the corrupt mayor Cora Hoover Hooper (the musical stage debut of Angela Lansbury), who has a 0% Approval Rating aside from three other officials. They need a way to earn revenue, so they figure it out - a fake miracle, of water gushing from a rock. It draws in tourists and pilgrims and is a smashing success until nurse Fay Apple, who works at the local insane asylum, wants the "miracle water" for the patients. Soon, the loonies start mingling with the pilgrims, and they can't sort out who is who.

Enter one J. Bowden Hapgood, who does just that... by sorting them into Group A and Group 1.

The musical was a notorious flop, plagued by problems throughout rehearsal (including a cast member dying), and ran only 9 performances, but has been somewhat Vindicated by History, at least as a Cult Classic, thanks in part to the decision of Columbia Records to record an original cast album after the show closed, and to a 1995 all-star benefit recording.

This musical contains examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Cora, at the beginning, acts as if she has this, although the treasurer, comptroller, and chief of police are on her side. She gets the admiration she craves after the "miracle," only to lose it again when Hapgood comes to town.
  • Alto Villainess: Cora.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done several times by the narrator.
    Those Cookies look as good as you. Maybe better.
  • BSoD Song: "See What It Gets You."
  • Crowd Song: "I'm Like the Bluebird," "Hooray for Hapgood," and "Miracle Song," as well as the end of "Simple." In all cases, it's used to demonstrate the tendency of the townspeople (and people in general) to accept what they're told and form inseparable groups based on arbitrary criteria.
  • Fauxreigner: Fay pretends to be from France.
  • 15 Minutes of Fame: The result of the fake miracle. Hapgood eventually gets this, too, after sorting them into their groups.
  • Final Love Duet: "With So Little To Be Sure Of."
  • Hurricane of Aphorisms: Many of the verses in "Simple" are built around an old saying (what Hapgood calls a "watch cry"), like "You can't judge a book by its cover," "A woman's place is in the home" and "I am the master of my fate."
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Cora (and apparently her town).
  • Implausible Deniability:
    Hapgood: It's not your hair, it's a wig.
    Fay: How do you know?
    Hapgood: You told me!
    Fay: I was lying!
  • Insane Troll Logic: "Simple" is full of it.
  • "I Want" Song: "Anyone Can Whistle," "Me And My Town," "A Parade in Town," and "There Won't Be Trumpets," to a certain extent.
  • Lemony Narrator
  • Mind Screw: "Simple."
  • Nobody Touches the Hair: Fay shouts, "Not my hair!" when Hapgood tries to remove her wig. Subverted in that it's not actually her hair.
  • Patter Song: "Everybody Says Don't."
  • Rock of Limitless Water:
  • Snake Oil Salesman: The politicians become this when they pull their fake miracle.
  • Summon Backup Dancers: Parodied with the boys who appear out of nowhere to reenforce Cora's point in "Me and My Town."
  • Troll: Sondheim speculates part of the reason that the show flopped was because it made fun of the audience. "Simple" is one huge exercise in trolling from Hapgood, both towards the other characters and to the audience. You might call it Troll: The Musical.
  • Villain Song: "I've Got You to Lean On," which is a jazzier version.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Fay Apple poses as a French lady.