ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, Pegasus Players. Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents’s musical–a 1964 Broadway flop, presented here in a recently revised version–satirizes religion, psychiatry, and the cold war arms race while celebrating eccentricity, as do other plays and films of its era (A Thousand Clowns, King of Hearts). Set in a bankrupt town whose corrupt officials have concocted a “miracle fountain” to boost the tourist trade, it focuses on an uptight nurse at the local insane asylum who finds emotional liberation with a charming lunatic–or “cookie” in the show’s terminology, a pun on “kooky.”
Sondheim’s vivid, youthful, imaginative score includes two of his best ballads–“With So Little to Be Sure Of” and the title tune–as well as clever, complex novelty numbers. But Laurents’s script is problematic: witty yet erratic, with an overlong last act, it demands rich, deep lead performances, which the supple-voiced Charissa Armon and Steven Marzolf don’t provide. Under Gareth Hendee’s direction, their appealing but shallow characterizations fail to convey the story’s conflict between Apollonian austerity and Dionysian madness. Northwestern University voice student Claire Wilmoth makes an impressive professional debut as the most flamboyant crooked lady mayor this side of Cicero. Despite offering some good laughs and lovely singing, this pedestrian production pales in comparison to Pegasus Players’ moving, brilliantly designed 1989 rendition.