When rumors are abuzz that Broadway mastermind composer Andrew Lloyd Webber could have just released “the next ‘Phantom,'” any musical fanatic would jump on an opportunity to witness it.
“Whistle Down the Wind” is this new musical that features a score composed by Webber and lyricist Jim Steinman.
However, soon after the national tour began, the comparisons to “Phantom of the Opera” began to dwindle.
Still, I entered the Merriam Theatre in Philadelphia with an open mind and would not make any judgments until I witnessed the performance first hand.
After taking my seat in the center orchestra, my theatre experience became something quite comparable to a roller coaster ride.
The musical takes place in a small town in Louisiana in 1959.
Three young children find an escaped convict sleeping in their family’s barn.
Upon their discovery, the man’s startled reaction included the exclamation “Jesus Christ,” leading the children to believe that they had in fact found “Christ their Savior.”
Having recently lost their mother, the children are desperately looking for someone or something to add a form of comfort to their lives.
The eldest child, Swallow – all three children are inexplicably named after birds – embodies the na’ve and delicate demeanor of a teenage girl.
Her growing attachment to the convict, whom the audience refers to as “The Man,” is an example of pure faith and vulnerability.
Also, since the show takes place in the South in 1959, many societal issues that were present at that time are present in the storyline, including racism.
The idea of beginning a Broadway run for this production is still in the distant horizon.
There are many aspects that need tweaking in order to make this a Broadway-calibre production.
The first act was … painful.
Eric Kunze’s portrayal of The Man was the only praiseworthy aspect of the opening act.
The company features a significant number of children that, in all honestly, are not necessary to the show.
Although I do understand that the use of children is essential to the story, a simple four or five would be sufficient.
The ensemble was weak, vocally and choreographically.
It is apparent that by the time intermission arrived, I had already formed my opinion.
However, by the curtain call, this opinion had changed.
The constant ups and downs of Act I were essentially absent from Act II. Kunze’s performance of “So Many Cries” literally brought tears to eyes. The rest of the audience seemed to agree, as applause was loudest at this point.
It is obvious that he is a polished performer with an abundance of theatrical credits attached to his name.
Finally, there was evidence that this was in fact a musical composed by Webber, and hope for an eventual Broadway run may not be not be completely out of the question.
My initial response to this touring production was quite harsh; however, as the performance progressed, I saw possibilities rather than hopelessness.
The short-time engagement in Philadelphia has come to a close, but I do not believe that this will be the last time anyone hears of “Whistle Down the Wind.”
The musical already has a sturdy foundation. With oil added to the wheels and maybe a bit of reconstruction, this roller coaster of a production has the potential to be a much smoother ride.