Original Cast Recording,
Whistle Down the Wind
(The Really Useful Group, 1999)

Andrew Lloyd Webber's name is star-studded on Broadway, with such blockbuster hits as The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Aspects of Love, Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita, Starlight Express and Sunset Boulevard. In his most recent creation, Whistle Down the Wind, Webber teams up with rocker Jim Steinman of Meatloaf fame.

On a personal note, I had tried to see this play during its premier in Philadelphia (although I live nearby New York City). However, its run was short -- I never made it to Philly and it never made its way to Broadway. If only I had wondered ... why? Still, I am a die-hard fan of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar and other Andrew Lloyd Webber productions (except Cats!) and I wanted the CD. I believed I didn't have to see the show to justify spending the $40 on it -- it was an Andrew Lloyd Webber production -- how bad could it be?

Beneath the really, really bad Southern accents, stupid dialogue, obviously poor acting and some equally offensive songs, there is a great story told within the lines of the music. However, I think the redeeming qualities of the plot are buried too deep to save this musical. "The Vaults of Heaven," a song of hellfires and damnation starts off this loser:

"The nights are growing darker, they're darker now than sin...."

When the choir stops singing, we are introduced to the youngest of the main characters, Brat, Swallow and Poor Baby. Each of these children seems a little dim in the bulb and has a repulsive accent. And, what's worse, their conversations are featured as dialogue on the soundtrack.

From the beginning up to the 11th song, this musical production shows barely a hair of anything resembling the works of either Webber or Steinman. Finally, track 11, "Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts," appears faintly reminiscent of Steinman's work. "When Children Rule the World," again somewhat familiar as far as style, is an upbeat, enjoyable song featured on track 14. However, the song's success is soon eclipsed by "Annie Christmas," a disgraceful melody about an extremely large woman with a mustache who could drink and fight:

"When she wore a very special necklace, 'cause it proved she was tough
and reckless, with a bead for every ear and nose, she had bitten off,
as the story goes, when she fought every man, who ever did her wrong,
and the necklace was already thirty feet long!"

You may think I'm kidding here, but I am a Broadway addict, and I assure you that I would NEVER jest about something as serious as live theatre.

By CD No. 2 of the 2-CD package, the plot had come together in my head, and I really think that "the boys" had the ball and then dropped it. The story revealed concerns a murderer who escapes from prison and hides in the barn of a Southern farm. A farmer's daughter discovers the man and mistakes him for Jesus. The escapee plays along and tries to get the girl (Swallow) to retrieve something for him from the train station. Swallow loves "Jesus" and will do anything for him, even use the affections of a boy who loves her, to take her to the station. When the boy saves her life, Swallow is grateful and romance sparks. However, the police soon put out the fire and deliver Swallow safely home, not knowing the danger is right in her backyard. In the meantime, the prisoner has fallen in love with Swallow and doesn't want to see her hurt. Soon the town is "onto" the hideout and the identity of Swallow's Jesus. But Swallow still believes.

In the midst of the combination of ho-hum and bad music, I came to the conclusion that Swallow is a stupid girl and not worthy of the musical. I would have liked to see her belief that the convict was Jesus "supported" by some -- even minor -- miracles. And, I would have liked to see the convict do more than sing the children a horrid song about a woman who's name should not be Christmas.

All in all, the musical treatment of this Broadway play was highly disappointing. There were 24 out of 27 songs that left me uninspired and both the characters and the story had flaws I could not overlook. I still cannot believe that either Webber or Steinman had their hands on it, but it says so, right on the cover.

[ by Lynne Remick ]
Rambles: 15 September 2001

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