Wednesday, May 31, 2023

ReDISCoveries: Whistle Down the Wind (Original London Cast, Disc Two)


Whistle Down the Wind (Original London Cast, Disc Two)

Jeff has kindly invited me to revisit and review some of the older cast recordings in my collection. Every other week or so, I’ll write about a new CD, offering some general impressions followed by my thoughts about each individual song. I continue this week with Disc Two (i.e. Act Two) from the 1999 Original London Cast Recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman’s Whistle Down the Wind.

While the end of Act One introduces a series of songs that build nicely towards a clash between the show’s children and adults, Act Two suffers from being pretty much the opposite. It peaks early with one of Lloyd Webber’s most urgent and energetic creations, but sags after that under the weight of music that is mostly recycled from the first act. That’s a shame, because the overall tension of the show continues to build nicely as Swallow and her family come to terms with the identity of the mysterious visitor. I think the relative lack of new music in the second act bothered me less when I saw
Whistle Down the Wind on stage than it does when I listen to the recording.

I never saw the London version of the show, as preserved on this recording, but I did see the original Hal Prince-directed production in Washington, D.C., as well as a much later touring production directed by British impresario Bill Kenwright. The D.C. production was certainly unpolished and rightly deemed not ready for Broadway, but I much preferred it to the pallid, cheap-looking tour. 

I particularly disliked the pat, unpersuasive ending of the touring production. Wisely, neither the D.C. version nor the London version explicitly resolve the identity of The Man, but everything about him is consistent with the fact that he is an escaped convict who has convinced some kids that he’s Jesus for his own benefit. Of course he finds some Harold Hill-like redemption in his interaction with Swallow and the other children, but The Man is just a man. In Kenwright’s version, though, Swallow and her family are clearly left with the belief that The Man really was Jesus, and this works against the point of everything else that has happened in the show.


I use a star (*) to mark the songs I particularly like, and my overall favorite gets two stars (**).

Introduction to Act Two: In typical ALW style, the second act begins with a rollicking potpourri of musical themes from the first act. I give him a lot of credit for sticking to tradition and providing some music to ease the transition out of intermission. I think he provides similar music for most of his shows, up to and including Bad Cinderella.

Try Not to Be Afraid: Unfortunately, the first proper song in the act - and one of only two really new ones - is this low-energy ballad that could easily be replaced by some dialogue.

** A Kiss is a Terrible Thing to Waste: The Jim Steinman influence is strong here, as he and ALW create a true rock epic that really gets things going. (Unsurprisingly, Steinman’s friend Meat Loaf recorded a nice version of this song.) While the lyrics are somewhat repetitive and the coda a little long-winded, this is a song I never tire of listening to. Some of the lyrics are quite striking (“we’ll never be as young as we are right now”), and the music builds and builds until it has nothing to do but collapse on itself. The orchestrations are also gorgeous, particularly the melodic French Horn parts near the end of the song.

If Only (Reprise): Just as nice as it was in the first act, but nothing new about it.

Charlie Christmas: This is the first of several songs in the act which are titled like new songs but, in terms of the music, are actually reprises. This one completes the first-act story of Annie Christmas by telling the tale of her husband, using the same music.

Off Ramp Exit to Paradise: Another semi-reprise, this one mostly rehashes the first-act music for the young rebels, “Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts.”

Safe Haven (Reprise): Here the dramatic tension begins to build but, once again, using music from the first act rather than developing new material. I think it works fine on stage, but makes for a bit of a let-down when listening to the cast recording.

Wrestle With the Devil:
Once again, the music and lyrics from this song have mostly been heard before (several times). Technically, those were “pre-prises,” and this is the actual song.

The Hunt: This song pits the adults and children directly against each other as the show reaches its climax, mainly through reprises of “Wrestle With the Devil” for the former and “When Children Rule the World” for the latter. There’s nothing really new here, but in this case the juxtaposition of the two musical styles does create an interesting effect.

* Nature of the Beast: Likewise, this song is mostly built up from pieces of “Unsettled Scores” and a few other motifs from earlier in the show. But those motifs are some of my favorite tunes from the score, and this song does a good job really developing the material rather than rehashing it. 

Whistle Down the Wind: The gentle music of the title song returns for the show’s denouement. 

Next time I’ll discuss the 2006 off-Broadway cast recording of Michael John LaChiusa’s Bernarda Alba.



Monday, May 29, 2023

The 2023 JKTS Awards

The 2023 JKTS Awards

It's that time of year once again! Here are the things that stood out to us - some serious, some just for fun. Why not "award" them?

Maverick Award
  • Justin David Sullivan - & Juliet

Unsung Hero Award

  • Elizabeth A. Davis, very pregnant, as Thomas Jefferson - 1776

Star on the Rise Award - Play

  • Hiran Abeysekera - Life of Pi

Star on the Rise Award - Musical

  • Solea Pfeiffer - Almost Famous

Breakout Performance (TIE)
  • Kolton Krouse - Bob Fosse’s Dancin’
  • Casey Likes - Almost Famous

Best Understudy Performance 

  • Alisa Melendez as Penny Lane - Almost Famous

Best Artistic Growth

  • Derek Klena as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard - Kennedy Center

We've always loved him, but it was so nice to see Derek play an adult, and at the same time give his best performance to date.

The Egregiously Overlooked
  • Lead Actor - Musical: Andrew Burnap - Camelot
  • Lead Actor - Play: Hiran Abeysekera - Life of Pi
  • Supporting Actress: Alli Mauzey - Kimberly Akimbo
  • Supporting Actor: Gaten Matarazzo - Sweeney Todd
  • Design Team: Bad Cinderella

How could the Tony Awards leave any of these very deserving folks out?

Best Play Ensemble - Full Cast  
  • The Cast of Leopoldstadt

Best Play Ensemble - Supporting Cast

  • The Puppeteers of Life of Pi

Best Musical Ensemble - Full Cast  

  • The Cast of Bob Fosse’s Dancin’

Best Musical Ensemble - Supporting Cast

  • F8 - KPOP

“Opening Doors” Award (TIE)

  • Almost Famous
  • Some Like It Hot

Both shows had jaw-dropping moving doors sequences, one serious, one hilarious, both perfect.

Best Exit - Musical

  • Sweeney Todd & Mrs. Lovett (Josh Groban & Annaleigh Ashford) - Sweeney Todd

Best Exit - Play

  • Nora Helmer (Jessica Chastain) - A Doll’s House

With Sweeney, if you know, you know - we aren't going to spoil it. With Doll, we didn't see it, but just hearing about it makes us excited.

Best Costume Change

  • Kimberly as “Grandmother” - Kimberly Akimbo

“Les Miz” Award for Best Turntable
  • & Juliet

Best Scenic Jaw-dropper

  • The Lifeboat in the Ocean - Life of Pi

Best Special Effect
  • Ice skating at Skater Planet - Kimberly Akimbo

Best Weather

  • Snow storm outside Skater Planet - Kimberly Akimbo

Best Prop Award (TIE)
  • The corn cobs - Shucked
  • Anne Hathaway's quill pen - & Juliet

Sorry I Missed It (Both Times!) Award
  • Take Me Out

Best Broadway on TV

  • Alex Newell sings “Independently Owned” from Shucked on The Voice

Best Career Recovery

  • Jack O’Brien from Carousel to Shucked

Best Comeback 

  • HAM4HAM Fridays

Welcome to Broadway! Award - People
  • Brandy Clark & Shane McAnally - Shucked

Welcome to Broadway! Award - Institution

  • The Museum of Broadway

Best Landmark - Theater District

  • TKTS Booth

Best Eats - Established

  • Junior’s - 44th Street

Best Eats - New to the Neighborhood

  • O’Casey’s Times Square - 46th Street

Playbill Cover - Play
  • Leopoldstadt

Best Playbill Cover - Musical

  • Shucked

Best Playbill Cover - Special 

  • The Phantom of the Opera April 14, 2023 Special Benefit

Best Playbill Cover - Collection

  • KPOP

Best Merch
  • Shucked

Best Cast Recording

  • Kimberly Akimbo

Best Regional Production
  • Sunset Boulevard - Kennedy Center Broadway Center Stage

Best Regional Logo

  • Pacific Overtures - Signature Theater

“Two By Two” Award
  • Carolee Carmello and Jordan Dobson - 1776/Bad Cinderella/A Beautiful Noise
Two great performers, two shows in one season each.

Best Villain 
  • Taylor Trensch as Mordrid - Camelot

2 for the Price of 1 Villainy Award

  • Carolee Carmello as Stepmother, Grace McLean as Queen - Bad Cinderella

Best Place to See a Diva - Broadway 
  • The Imperial Theatre - Grace McLean - Bad Cinderella

Best Place to See a Diva - Regional

  • The Kennedy Center - Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer - Spamalot

Best Animal (TIE)
  • Milky White - Into the Woods
  • Richard Parker - Life of Pi

Best Hair
  • J. Savage - Bad Cinderella

Best Abs - Broadway

  • Josh Drake - Bad Cinderella/Broadway Bares

Best Abs - Regional

  • Derek Klena - Sunset Boulevard

Grin and Bear It Award
  • The Company of Bad Cinderella

Grin and Bare It Award

  • The Hunks of Bad Cinderella

Somehow, Bad Cinderella became this season's whipping boy. Some wonderful, undeserving people really got the short end of the stick. On the other hand, they really served the beefcake and cheesecake. Beauty really was their duty!

Best Kiss - Straight
  • Kimberly and Seth - Kimberly Akimbo

Best Kiss - Queer

  • Francois and May - & Juliet

“Mean Girls” Award
  • Adele & Marie (Sami Gayle and Morgan Higgins) - Bad Cinderella

Best Onstage Game 

  • UNO - Kimberly Akimbo

Best Felony

  • The Check Washing Scheme - Kimberly Akimbo

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