Whistle Down the Wind

Writers: Patricia Louisiana Knop with Andrew Lloyd Webber; music: Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics: Jim Steinman
Empire Theatre, Sunderland, and touring

When a musical on the scale of Whistle Down the Wind tours, there is little point in the reviewer looking at the performances (unless the show is getting tired and the cast have lost the edge), for generally they are of a high standard. So it is with this touring production: there is little, if anything, to be critical of. In fact, the production values are uniformly high. So perhaps what one should do is take a fresh look at the show itself.

It is not one of Lloyd Webber's greatest hits, not having had the success of Phantom, Superstar or the other long-runners, and it is worth asking why. There isn't really an equivalent to the very melodic hits of the earlier shows, no Memory or Music of the Night, not even a Don't Cry for Me, Argentina, although the title song does have something going for it, but the songs aren't bad. In many ways they are a lot "tougher" than anything Lloyd Webber written since Superstar. I found a few reminiscent of Les Mis - in style, not melody - and even thought I detected a Sondheim influence at times. So that can't be the reason.

I think the problem is that the show can't decide what it is. In the first half it is, to my eyes, rather in the style of the traditional musical, with dialogue interspersed with songs which generally illuminate the action by reflecting the characters' emotions (although there was a bit of quasi-recitative which seemed a little out of place), whereas much of the second act is almost like a sung-through musical and, to my mind, all the better for it. It is in the second half, in fact, that we see the musical toughness which I mentioned earlier. The two styles don't really sit easily together.

There is a sentimentality about it, too, which doesn't quite fit. I got the feeling, as the local stage school children (well done, them! by the way) sang When Children Rule the World, that it was a song imported from Annie to produce the Ah! factor!

Although I did enjoy the evening, I think my enjoyment came more from the performances than from the show itself. Interestingly, although three ladies some rows in front of me did leap to their feet during the final curtain call, their lead was not followed by anyone else and, although the applause was generous, it wasn't prolonged and there wasn't the buzz among the audience that we experienced with Blood Brothers and Chicago, to name but two of the musicals I've see in recent years at the Empire.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan