Whistle Down the Wind

 

Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin

Premiered in 1996, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Windhas had a chequered history; it has been reworked three times since its failed opening, and, for many critics, has been consigned to the graveyard of musical theatre. However, Bill Kenwright’s 2001 production made a convincing case for its reappraisal. Kenwright is also responsible for this new production, and his confidence with the material is evident everywhere, especially in his exuberant skip through the storyline, which weaves an excess of pondering themes like the threads a technicolor dreamcoat.

Set in the bible-belt deep American south, there is more than a touch of Josephto Whistle Down the Wind. Based on the 1961 film of the same name, it mixes religious symbolism and iconography with ironic musical tropes, as an escaped felon is mistaken for Jesus in a small-town being torn apart by the evils of modernity. Kenwright makes no apology for the preposterous plot, and allows the more ridiculous moments (and musical numbers; Tyre Tracks and Broken Hearts, anyone?) to have their time.

The Grand Canal Theatre accommodates an impressive range of set changes, lit with red and blue stained-glass effect, although perspectives occasionally seem slightly askew. Carly Bawden’s Swallow is the star of the show, capturing the innocence of her character in the purity of her soprano, while Jonathan Ansell growls and prowls across the stage as the masquerading Jesus.

An enormous chorus of children complement the leads in a variety of numbers, and Kenwright choreographs their exits and entrances with impressive skill.

There are some memorable musical numbers in the score ( No Matter What, made famous by Boyzone, and the title track), but the inconsistency of tone is mirrored in the inconsistent musical motifs, which veer from early rock and roll to gospel, while referencing Lloyd Webber’s own repertoire.

However, without a single new song, the second half of the show flags and is nothing more than an extended finale.

It’s all good fun, though, as all contemporary musical theatre must be; camp and knowing, while taking its duty to entertain very seriously.


Runs until May 22