Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Thursday, April 4

A Sondheim opening (and closing)

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1964, a new musical called “Anyone Can Whistle” opened at Broadway’s Majestic Theater. The book was by Arthur Laurents, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

The show told the story of a town that's gone bankrupt because its only industry manufactured something that never wears out. To spark tourism, the town’s Mayor fakes a miracle—water flowing from a rock—and when patients from a local mental hospital called the “Cookie Jar” escape and mix in with townspeople and tourists, chaos ensues. The only conventional thing about the new Sondheim-Laurent musical was the inclusion of a love story.

The New York Daily News called the first act "joyously daffy," and the Journal-American reported that the opening night audience cheered several numbers. The New York Times, unfortunately, panned the new show, opening its review with this statement: "There is no law against saying something in a musical, but it's unconstitutional to omit imagination and wit."

Ouch!

It didn't help that the new Laurent-Sondheim musical’s competition on Broadway that year included crowd pleasers like Hello, Dolly, Funny Girl, and Fiddler on the Roof. The show ran for just one week.

But one person who liked the show happened to be a Columbia Record executive named Goddard Lieberson, who assembled the original cast the day after it closed to make an original cast recording that became something of a cult classic.

Music Played in Today's Program

Steven Sondheim (b. 1930) Me and My Town ,from Anyone can Whistle Angela Lansbury; orchestra; Paul Gemignani, cond. RCA Victor 60515

Additional Information

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