Whistle Down the Wind
Tue 19 to Sat 23 November 2013
Palace Theatre, Redditch
Director – Tony Lacey
Musical Director – Joe George
Executive Producer – Tony Jay
Society Accompanist – Pauline Sherlock
Nominated for NODA West Midlands Region 12 Best Musical Award
Dedicated to the memory of Alan Leadbeater
|The Minister||Tim Eagleton|
|Brat (Tue, Thu, Sat Eve)||Caitlin Moonan|
|Brat (Wed, Fri, Sat Mat)||Millie Henderson Purvis|
|Poor Baby (Tue, Thu, Sat Eve)||Billy Vale|
|Poor Baby (Wed, Fri, Sat Mat)||Joshua White|
|Snake Preacher||Tom Bowes|
|The Man||David Steele|
A Fitting Tribute to the Memory of Alan Leadbeater
The whimsical 1961 film based on the novel by Mary Hayley Bell starring her daughter Hayley Mills and Alan Bates had Keith Waterhouse and the Willis Hall script in a Lancashire farm setting.
Today reset in 1959 Louisiana, Whistle Down the Wind is a musical by Lord Lloyd Webber and Meat Loaf’s rock opera lyricist Jim Steinman, with a combination of ballads and rock numbers. Not one of the better-known musicals but one that gave birth to a number one for Boyzone in August 1998 when the Irish boy band could have topped the charts singing a page from the telephone directory.
The plot may be simple, though this production is where simplicity ends and entertainment of the highest quality begins in every respect imaginable featuring a creative set, imaginative stage effects, clever stagecraft, superb singing performances, dramatic interpretations, and real emotion as they all combine to support a magnificent ensemble of all ages including a magical group of children and premier principal line up to draw everything possible from every moment.
Swallow (Emma Hopcroft) in the story the eldest of three children, in her first appearance with ROS vocally true and delightful gave a performance of empathy with her siblings , Brat (Millie Henderson-Purvis) and Poor Baby (Joshua White) particularly in ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ and ‘I Always Prayed’. Real chemistry between her and motor bike riding Amos (Ryan Allen) was evident in their duet ‘A Kiss is a Terrible Thing to Waste’. Swallow, is left in the sole care of Boone (Laurence Sutton) after her mother died all too young. When she discovers a wounded man in the family barn, Swallow asks his name and surprised at being found in cursing pain he utters ‘Jesus Christ’, suggesting maybe she has found the saviour to reunite her with her mother.
Fantasy collides with reality. ‘The Man’ (David Steele) is in fact a murderer on the run and was brilliantly portrayed with a command and presence on stage that was spell binding. None more so than in the very moving Soliloquy. In a principal line up of huge strength and character very assured performances also included those given by Candy (Suzy Hill) and the Sheriff (Alastair Butler).
Enormous credit must be paid to a much disciplined ensemble of townsfolk using the stage well and vocally secure. ‘Fireflies’ one of two children’s groups was in the show Wednesday Friday and Saturday Matinee. The other was ‘Crickets’. Applause for a hugely talented group, smiling, natural totally committed was well deserved. They achieved a wonderfully blended sound in ‘No Matter What’ and the children’s anthem ‘When Children Ruled The World’.
In every respect this though was a great production featuring well executed freezes, effective lighting and stage effects – a moving light with appropriate sound depicting a train in the tunnel – for example, and a complex yet well delivered sequence of finely honed scene changes. The orchestra was well balanced allowing dynamics and diction from the vocalists to come through. Slick choreography and costumes with the right splash of colour just added to the enjoyment.
This society has experienced a tough few months. Alan Leadbeater their President passed away on 22nd August 2013 following a short illness. He was a member of the society for nearly 50 years, becoming Chairman in 1981 and then President in 1999.
Alan was part of the fabric of this society who served them with heart and soul and with great humour always striving for greater success. This production dedicated to Alan’s memory was a fitting tribute to a true gentleman who on this evidence has left a legacy of quality, talent and enthusiasm that promises to be sustained for years to come.
Ian Cox, NODA Representative, Worcestershire East
Some Audience Comments
A note to say how much my wife and I enjoyed Whistle down the Wind. We have been involved with the amateur stage for more years than we care to remember and we are impressed at how standards continue to rise. It is also, of course, a delight to see the first performance of a new release. The Garrick at Lichfield appears to have pipped you by only a few days. The need for so many children must be an interesting challenge! And a double cast. It almost makes the need for The King and I pale into the distance. Congratulations to everyone involved. It was a wonderful evening, tempered a little by the lack of heat in the theatre!
John D Smith, va email
Well words are hard to find to express our warmest congratulations on your magnificent show Whistle Down The Wind. We were ‘blown away’ with the singing, acting, professionalism of every member of the cast. We have been to many shows, amateur and professional and many in the West End of London and this, to us, was right up there with the best. In particular the man who played Jesus and the eldest daughter had voices second to nothing we have ever heard. To think these lead roles were from amateur singers when they sung with such depth and range was fantastic and a joy to sit and listen to. Our only regret is that we booked tickets for Saturday evening, your last performance, had we had gone earlier in the week we would have definitely gone to see the show a second time. Thank you for a wonderful evening out and we look forward to your production next year.
Dave and Sue King, via email
Very Good production of ‘Whistle Down The Wind’, it was a very different type of show. I went in only knowing the bear minimum and had a brilliant afternoon watching the performance.
Craig Robert McDowall, via Facebook
A fantastic production of Whistle Down The Wind! The whole performance was amazing, the scenery & special effects were brilliant! You are pulled into the story right from beginning & held there until the very end!! Well done to everyone involved!
Michelle Allen, via Facebook
Wow what a show! Whistle Down The Wind was brilliant! David Steel was absolutely awesome along with the children, chorus and other principles! Very professional! Well done.
Lisa Smith, via Facebook
What a fantastic cast – and what voices. Thoroughly enjoyed the show – well done to you all.
Alison Medway, via Facebook
Well done all involved in Whistle down the Wind. Was a very enjoyable show. Hope the rest of your run goes well.
Andy Brown, via Facebook
Hello. I came to see Whistle down the Wind tonight. Brilliant show.
Ann Mayor, via Facebook
Congratulations to the cast of Whistle Down the Wind. A great opening night. Very impressive singing, set and drama. Good luck for the rest of the run.
Jonathan Busk, via Facebook
I could not agree more! The best ever amateur production I have ever seen. I have seen professional productions that would never reach the standards of ‘Whistle Down the Wind’. Congratulations to the Director, Musical Director, talented cast and superb crew.
Marcus Bridger, via Facebook
What a fantastic performance, loved every minute!! Well done to all of the cast! Enjoy the rest of the week.
Claire Stanway, via Facebook
It would be fair to say that most of the committee didn’t know a great deal about this show when it first became available to amateur societies. It was only after a quick phone round of some more knowledgeable friends that we decided it was one we should snap up.
Tony Lacey, who had previously seen the show, was one such person to recommend we go for it. And it was Tony who subsequently agreed to direct the show for us, doing a superb job. We also invited Joe George to be our Musical Director for this show. Joe has been associated with the Society on and off for some years, and has been MD for various groups around the wider area. The committee agreed that Joe should be the first person we approach, and we were delighted when he agreed to join us. His enthusiasm and talent were greatly appreciated by the whole company, and the band that he brought together produced a wonderful sound from the pit.
The story calls for quite a few children, including a principal girl and boy. We decided early on that we would have a ‘split’ chorus of children, and held auditions to find two ‘Brat’s, two ‘Poor Baby’s and about thirty other children to participate in the show. The children get a lot of action in Whistle Down the Wind and, under Tony Lacey’s excellent direction, they did us proud. Every one of them were a credit to their families, many of whom came to see the show multiple times.
For one reason or another, a few of our regular adult members decided not to do this show. Some decided that there was not much chorus work, and in particular not much dancing – something many of our members particularly enjoy. However, the remaining company found plenty to do in the production, which includes some pretty difficult singing in places.
We hired a set from Scenic Projects for this production, and what an amazing set it was. It opened out, and unfolded, to make a number of different scenes including the inside of the barn (where so much of the action is set), the outside of the town, the family home and the local bar. The quality of this set was commented upon many times by our audience members. Thankfully, it just about fit the Palace Theatre stage! Our thanks go to Scenic Projects for supplying and helping fit this wonderful piece of theatrical ingenuity.
Thanks in no small part to the children’s families, we achieved a very respectable 72% fill for this production. Not at all bad compared with previous recent productions, and pretty much what we had hoped for. In the end, we managed to make a very small profit on the show.
The feedback from audiences was astonishing. Never before had we heard such universal praise from seemingly every person who left the theatre each evening. The superlatives just kept coming! They commented on the set, the acting, the singing, the children, and in particular the performances of our amazing cast, led by David Steele as The Man (who earned roars of appreciation with his ‘Soliloquy’ each evening) and with startling principal debuts from Emma Hopcroft (Swallow) and Laurence Sutton (Boone) amongst others.
For the third year running, our production received a nomination for Best Musical (in our Worcestershire East region) from our NODA representative. A fitting tribute that we humbly and gratefully received.
Whistle Down the Wind will certainly go down in memory as one of the most unique and universally praised shows that Redditch Operatic Society has had the privilege of presenting. Thank you, and well done, to every single person who helped make it happen.
Synopsis of the Show
- Keys To The Vaults Of Heaven
- I Never Get What I Pray For
- Wrestle With The Devil
- Should Have Been Home By Now
- Grown Ups Kill Me
- Whistle Down The Wind
- I Always Prayed
- If Only
- Tire Tracks
- Safe Haven
- Long Overdue For A Miracle
- When Children Rule The World
- Annie Christmas
- No Matter What
- Try Not To Be Afraid
- A Kiss Is A Terrible Thing To Waste
- If Your Mother Was Here
- So Many Cries
- Off Ramp Exit
- Now The Noose
- There’s A Prayer
- The Nature Of The Beast
Whistle Down the Wind is set in 1959 in a small town in Louisiana, USA.
In the local Baptist church the townspeople have gathered two days before Christmas. The Minister reminds the congregation that one day Jesus will return amongst them. The families disperse, the children play and siblings Swallow, Brat and Poor Baby are walking home together. They are sad as they discuss the upcoming first Christmas without their mother. They see family friend Edward who is about to drown some kittens. Swallows saves them and Poor Baby vows to keep the runt of the later and names it Spider. They then encounter Earl who is looking for folks to come to a revival meeting where believers are tested with snakes.
Back home, their father Boone tries to cheer them up and tell them things are fine, but as he recalls their mother’s words it is clear he still grieves for her.
Swallow leaves to feed the kittens in the barn. Suddenly, a dishevelled man jumps out at her. When she asks who he is, he manages to say ‘Jesus Christ’ before collapsing. Swallow brings her brother and sister and they all vow to keep his whereabouts a secret.
In a local bar Edward entertains the townsfolk, when the Sheriff arrives to announce an escaped killer is on the loose. In the barn The Man awakes and finds himself surrounded by children who all promise to take care of him and keep his existence a secret. The Man is confused and sings of ‘unsettled scores’. Later that night, Swallow asks him to bring her mother back, so that things can go back to the way they were.
We next meet a young, local couple, Amos and Candy, who are not like the locals but are rebellious and want to escape to the city. They promise to leave on the motorbike together soon, even though their pairing is not approved of by anybody. Meanwhile the townsfolk sing that they must make the town safe again.
In the barn the children are discussing if it is Jesus and how their lives would improve. The children beg The Man to tell them a story, so he regales the tale of Annie Christmas, but he cannot explain its meaning. The children give him gifts and tell him they love him. At the same time the townsfolk vow to hunt down the killer.
While the townsfolk hunt the killer, The Man asks Swallow to get a package he desperately needs from a nearby train tunnel. He calms her when he sees she is scared. Amos arrives on his bike to see Swallow before leaving with Candy and asks Swallow, who he has long yearned for, what her big secret is. He says they have to kiss if they share secrets, and she promises to kiss him if he helps her get the package. Whilst the two go to the train tunnel, Candy is alone waiting for Amos. At the tunnel, Swallow is saved by Amos when a train nearly hits her. She tells him her secret, but before they can kiss the Sheriff arrives. He thinks he has found the killer and is disappointed to see who it is. He sends Amos away and takes Swallow home, but it has all been witnessed by Earl, who is sneaking in the shadows.
Back home, Boone is worried where Swallow has been. Later, Swallow finds an upset Poor Baby. His kitten has died, and so he doesn’t believe the man is Jesus. They go to the barn with their friends who tells them another story with the moral that everyone dies eventually! Swallow tells The Man that she loves him, and he sings, unaware that Amos has witnessed all this.
At the Revival meeting the town’s people listen to the preacher talk about the devil and serpents. Candy arrives and tells the crowd about The Man hiding in the barn. They all set off to hunt him down to protect the children. Swallow runs to the barn, to try and tell The Man that the townsfolk are on their way. He tells her he has to flee, she begs him to stay and she will protect and love him whoever he is. He tries to explain who he really is.
Outside the barn, the children try to form a protective barrier to keep the grown-ups back. In desperation, The Man is going to take Swallow hostage but instead pushes her to safety and sets fire to the barn. Later, no trace is found of him.
Come the dawn, the family return to the barn, picking their way through the ashes. The children still believe The Man will return, and sing of hope, ending with the line ‘I have always been right there’.
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Jim Steinman
With book by Patricia Knop, Gale Edwards and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
An amateur production by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd.