Whistle Down The Wind – Theatre Review

Did you know that there are many more Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals than just Cats, Phantom, Evita, and Joseph? One of the better second-tier ones (IMHO) is Whistle Down The Wind. It’s based on an old movie (which was itself based on a book) set in a southern American town in the late 50s. Three kids who have recently lost their mother find a mysterious man hiding in their barn. A misunderstanding leads them to think that he is Jesus Christ returned. Meanwhile, tensions and excitement in town start to build as the sheriff hunts for an escaped murderer (hmm, coincidence?), and a group arrives to put on a Christmas eve religious revival (featuring snake-handling and all). Containing a lot of good musical numbers, this show suffers from a failing common to productions of Lloyd Webber works. Some songs just don’t have much going on while the actors are singing so we end up with a lot of standing around. Those moments (along with some stilted choreography that brought back unwanted memories of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video) are probably the lows of this pretty good show. The highs include an incredible rendition of “The Nature of the Beast” by Eric Kunze as The Man (who might be Jesus) and my favourite song of the musical: “Long Overdue” (aka “When Children Rule The World”). The entire number is performed exclusively (and very well) by kids.

The performance I saw was by the U.S. touring company which did a quick stop at the Princess of Wales Theatre here in Toronto. I like being a stop for touring companies — first Wicked, now Whistle — because it allows me to enjoy a show that would otherwise not be produced here simply because it might not sustain an extended run. The casts are pretty good (not second-rate, as I originally feared). Besides Kunze, the other lead was excellent as well. Justine Magnusson played Swallow, the oldest of the kids. She carried many numbers vocally with a strong and beautiful voice; and her character’s being on the verge of womanhood was expressed really well in her performance.

Being very familiar with the original cast recording, I noticed that they cut out a pair of pretty memorable numbers (The Man was telling the kids a tall tale about a wild couple known as Annie and Charlie). They really fit in well with the tone of the story, but if you had to cut something, I guess they do lift out pretty cleanly (but if you pick up the CD you should definitely check them out). Unfortunately the songs were replaced by a clearly-inferior, non-Lloyd Webber song called “The Tribe” that tried to throw in pop culture references of the day and just didn’t fit. Still, almost all the other numbers were just as I imagined them.

Compared to most other shows I’ve seen, this one had a less elaborate set and required less staging (again, there were numbers with characters just standing around), so it was not quite the spectacle that Wicked or Joseph were, and in that regard resembled a play more than a musical. Nevertheless, the story itself was full of drama, bringing together several story-lines in a satisfying way. (4 out of 5)

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2 thoughts on “Whistle Down The Wind – Theatre Review”

  1. I don’t have any information about a cast CD including Kunze (I agree that he gave a good performance), but since it’s a touring production rather than a Broadway cast, I think the chances are not too great. That’s my guess. Sorry.

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