Whistle Down the Wind is a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the 1961 film Whistle Down The Wind. The lyrics are by Jim Steinman, known for his work with Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler and others.
It premiered at The National Theatre in Washington, D.C. on 12 December 1996, starring Davis Gaines as The Man and Irene Molloy as Swallow, to negative reviews, and the Broadway opening that had been scheduled for April 17, 1997, was subsequently cancelled. It was subsequently felt that, among other things, it was Harold Prince's direction that had let the American version of the show down. However, it got a huge amount of advance publicity, due to Steinman's status as a popular American songwriter and how strange the combination of Steinman and Lloyd Webber seemed based on Steinman's prior work.
Concept Album and Cast Recording
A concept album was released in 1998 featuring 12 of the songs from the show, covered by artists such as Tom Jones, Boy George, Tina Arena, Donny Osmond, the Everly Brothers, Boyzone, Meat Loaf, and Bonnie Tyler. In addition to this rostrum of popular recording artists and a gospel choir called Sounds of Blackness, West End theatre stars Elaine Paige and Michael Ball (and up-and-coming singer-actress Lottie Mayor, scheduled to play Swallow in the reworked West End version) appeared on the album. The album was executive produced by Steinman and Lloyd Webber. A double-sided cast recording was released the same year featuring the original cast of the West End production.
Notable songs from the show include "No Matter What" (released as a single by Boyzone, which later had unprecedented success: it went platinum, was voted the UK's Record of the Year for 1998, and hit #1 in 18 countries, becoming the most successful single produced from a musical in history. But if North Americans know the song at all, it is because it was later featured on the Notting Hill soundtrack), "Whistle Down the Wind," "A Kiss is a Terrible Thing to Waste," and "When Children Rule the World."
West End Premiere
A reworked and more successful West End production opened at the Aldwych Theatre on July 1, 1998, starring Marcus Lovett as The Man and Lottie Mayor as Swallow, running for 1044 performances and closing in January 2001. This production was darker, and was revised and directed by Gale Edwards, a director who had previously collaborated with Lloyd Webber on an updated production of Jesus Christ Superstar. More than half of the crew also came from Superstar to Whistle.
The principal cast for the original West End production were:
Tha Man - Marcus Lovett; Swallow - Lottie Mayor; Amos - Dean Collinson; Candy - Veronica Hart; Boone - James Graeme; Ed - Walter Herron Reynolds III; Snake Preacher - Christopher Howard; Earl - Paul Lowe; Sheriff - John Turner; Deputy - Craig Parkinson; The Minister - Reg Eppey; Brat - Danielle Calvert/ Ashley Andrews; Poor Baby - Ricki Cuttell/ Dean Clish.
Subsequently The Man was played by Jerome Pradon, and Swallow by Laura Michelle Kelly, who went on to find great success in other West End leading roles including Eliza in "My Fair Lady" and the title role in "Mary Poppins".
UK Tour / West End Revival
In 2001, Bill Kenwright produced and directed his own production of Whistle Down the Wind for a UK tour, starring Tim Rogers as The Man and Katie Rowley Jones as Swallow. He was granted a considerable amount of creative freedom as director, being authorized by Andrew Lloyd Webber to make significant changes to the dramatic structure of the musical, including replacing the running parable of Annie and Charlie Christmas told to the children by The Man with a lighter-toned number called "The Gang" (lyrics by Don Black). This version was simpler in design and more focused on the human story than the spectacular visuals of the Aldwych production. The show toured the UK a number of times with several cast changes between 2001 to 2004.
The principal cast for the reworked national tour (2001-2002) were:
The Man - Tim Rogers; Swallow - Katie Rowley Jones; Amos - Scott Cripps; Candy - Adelaide Thompson; Boone - Mark Inscoe; Ed / Sam - Larrington Walker / Reginald Tsiboe; Snake Preacher - Chris Holland; Earl - Dominic Brewer; Sheriff - Aaron Shirley; Deputy - Mark Goldthorp; The Preacher - Martyn Andrews; Brat - Kirstie Kober /Carly Thomas; Poor Baby - Ashley Lloyd/ Jonathan Burke.
At the request of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kenwright brought his production of Whistle Down the Wind to the Palace Theatre, London in March 2006, where it played a strictly limited run until August, filling the gap between the closure of another Lloyd Webber musical, The Woman in White, and the opening of the Monty Python musical Spamalot. Tim Rogers reprised his acclaimed performance of The Man, and Claire Marlowe, another veteran of the tour reprised her role of Swallow. The critical opinion was mixed, ranging from Michael Billington's 2 star review in "The Guardian" to Benedict Nightingale's 4 star review in "The Times", but virtually all of the national papers agreed that this version was an improvement on Gale Edwards' Aldwych production.
The principal cast for the West End revival at the Palace Theatre were:
The Man - Tim Rogers; Swallow - Claire Marlowe; Amos - Garrie Harvey; Candy - Debbie Korley; Boone - Michael Howard Smith; Ed - Tee Jay; Snake Preacher - Chris Holland; Earl - Dominic Brewer; Sheriff - Kevin Curtin; Deputy - Michael Diana; Sam - Leroy Ricardo Jones; The Preacher - David Robbins; Brat - Emma Hopkins/ Henrietta Touquet; Poor Baby - Laurence Belcher/ Chris Thomas.
As of yet, Whistle Down the Wind has never reached Broadway or returned to the US.
Plot and Musical Numbers
Based on the novel of the same name by Mary Hayley Bell, the setting was moved from Lancashire to small town Louisiana in 1959. It tells the story of three children -- 16 year old Swallow, sister Bluejay (known as Brat), and younger brother Robin (known as Poor Baby) -- as they approach their first Christmas since the death of their mother. Discovering an escaped criminal hiding in their barn, they become convinced that he is Jesus, and agree to keep his location secret. The plot contrasts the innocence of the children with the fervour of the town's residents to inflict punishment on the supposed evil in their midst.
1. The Vaults of Heaven
1. Introduction Act Two