Anyone Can Whistle
Society, government and religion are lampooned in this unconventional satire of small town life.
Show Essentials
+ Ensemble

Full Synopsis

Act One

The narrator introduces us to the town and its citizens. We're in the main square which is crumbling before our very eyes. Vacancy signs are up. Cracks appear. Walls tumble. The citizens are a sorry lot dressed in rags.

The "Cookies," modestly dressed and orderly, march in singing their childlike anthem, "I'm Like the Bluebird." They are inmates of the local insane asylum.

The Townspeople, depressed by crop failures and bank failures, demonstrate on the steps of City Hall and protest against Treasurer Cooley who enters clutching greenbacks in his fists. The narrator points out the characters as they appear: Cooley, Chief of Police Macgruder, Comptroller Schub, and finally the Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper.

The unruly crowd shouts curses at her, but she's oblivious of their threats and launches into her song, "Me and My Town," while the suffering citizens continue to boo her. An ensemble of boys backs her up through the number, pandering to her every wish.

Comptroller Schub and Treasurer Cooley assess the town's depressed state with Cora. She realizes she needs a miracle to survive. Schub has come up with a hoax to save the town. They arrange to meet at the Rock as soon as the Mayoress can change into a new costume and some fresh jewelry.

Baby Joan ("a weird-looking little brat of 7 or 8") approaches the Rock and starts licking it. It spurts water. The child's mother shouts, "It's a miracle." Cora concurs. Water gushes and Cora proclaims "The Miracle Song" as the moppet stands at the Rock like a plaster saint. The Townspeople and Pilgrims from far and wide offer gifts to Baby Joan--money, jewels, etc. which Treasurer Cooley eagerly collects.

The crowd, throughout the number, grows wilder and wilder, pushing to the Rock, kissing the feet of Baby Joan, rolling on the ground, and gradually a rainbow appears, flowers sprout, the buildings right themselves, and prosperity is evident everywhere. It's boom time in the township. It is a miracle!

The Rock revolves and we see its interior where Police Chief Macgruder is operating the water pump. Cora comes in to urge him to keep pumping. Prosperity is running rampant: the water's being bottled and sold like hot cakes and plans are under way for life-size statues of Baby Joan.

"I'm Like the Bluebird" is heard again as the Cookies from the asylum march in led by Nurse Fay Apple. She's young. She's pretty. She's suspicious. However she orders tickets for her Cookies to "take the water" as a cure for her charges.

Comptroller Schub, in an aside to Treasurer Cooley, reasons that the water will have no effect on the Cookies. They'll be as nutty after taking the waters as they were before, and their scheme will be exposed. But Nurse Apple insists on the tickets and delivers a dazzling diatribe at high speed. Point one: reason vs. superstition. Point two: the Pilgrims are being deceived; there are no "miracle waters" in the rock. Point three: her Cookies are human and entitled like anyone to take the "cure" of the waters if it's real. Moreover, if they are not allowed, she'll take the case, not to the Mayoress for she knows the town's administration is corrupt, but to the county, the state, the nation if need be, until she's heard!

During her tirade the Cookies mingle among the Pilgrims and one cannot be distinguished from the other. Confusion ensues. A chase. A spotlight on Nurse Apple as everyone freezes in the chase as she breaks into song ("There Won't Be Trumpets.") The song ends. The freeze ends. She escapes.

With thunder, lightning, and trumpets J. Bowden Hapgood appears and asks for directions to The Cookie Jar and is on his way.

Dr. Detmold, the psychiatrist from the asylum, arrives but cannot differentiate between Cookies and Pilgrims. He refers the city administrators to his new assistant who is due to arrive at any moment. Hapgood is back and Detmold mistakes Hapgood for the new assistant. So he leaves the problem of distinguishing Cookies from Pilgrims in the hands of "Doctor" Hapgood.

Zany exchanges between Hapgood, Schub, and the Mayoress lead to a bit of dancing, a bit of misunderstanding, and a bit of confusion in rapid order. And how will Hapgood sift out the Cookies from the Pilgrims? According to the principles of logic, of course, with the number that concludes the first act: "Simple." The song explores "Who is what and/Which is who?" and gradually turns into a nonsense game, each character exchanging names and quoting bromides, while Hapgood assigns each one to groups. Utter confusion reigns. While Cora (the Mayoress) thinks it's all brilliant fun, Schub is bewildered by Pilgrims and Cookies crossing from group to group.

Hapgood, in his interrogation, exposes Macgruder and Cooley and Schub as frauds and by a process of deduction labels them as the crazy ones. Everyone on stage is cheering and closing in on Cora who is tossed about like a rag doll. Then, as the number ends, except for a spotlight on Hapgood, the stage is dark. He addresses the theatre audience directly: "You are all mad." Wild music! Lights! And suddenly as though a huge mirror had descended, all the Pilgrims and Cookies are seated in rows of theatre seats facing and applauding the audience as the lights fade to black.

The lights come up on the town square. A parade, placards, cheering for Hapgood in the "A-1 March." Cora is ignored as she fruitlessly calls out to her voters delivering "There's A Parade In Town" to an empty square. As the crowd rushes in again they are still singing Hapgood's praises. Comptroller Schub assures the Mayoress he'll find a plan to save their scheme.

Fay Apple in disguise (feathers, dark glasses, a red wig and a thick French accent) vamps Comptroller Schub and identifies herself as "Ze lady from Lourdes," that she has been sent to investigate the miracle. Schub makes a quick exit. The "Lady" then turns her charms on Hapgood.

Their flirtatious exchange is in French with English subtitles flashing as though we were watching a French film. They sing "Come Play Wiz Me." The scene shifts to Hapgood's bedroom. While he tries to seduce her, she admits she is a nurse at the asylum trying to expose the "miracle" of the healing waters from the Rock as a fake. He snatches the wig off her head and Fay goes limp in his arms.

She earnestly levels with Hapgood about how she has always been the embodiment of control and order until an affair with an intern when she first wore the wig and costume--which now serve as reminders of her losing control. Hapgood sees through her and says she really wants to believe the waters could cure her Cookies. She confesses that she can't relax and "let go," can't laugh, can't even whistle, and then delivers her philosophy of being able to master all the challenging and difficult things in life but not the easy ones: "Anyone Can Whistle." Lights fade on the scene as the act ends.

Act Two

Cora is stretched out on a massage table getting a rub-down by Schub, Cooley, Macgruder and one of her young dancing partners. After some bickering, they agree to "cancel" the miracle by turning off the water at the Rock. No miracle. No investigation by the Lady from Lourdes. They marshal forces and sing "I've Got You To Lean On" in which they decide to lay the blame for the failed miracle on Hapgood, concocting a smear campaign against him.

Back in Hapgood's bedroom, Fay is dressing to leave. As she is about to leave "to charge City Hall" he threatens to tear up the records of her 49 Cookies to set them free, but she cries out "Don't" as Hapgood angrily protests with "Everybody Says Don't" but ending with the admonition "I say don't/Don't be afraid." And then he confesses to her that he is not "Doctor" Hapgood at all, just good old everyday J. Bowden Hapgood... her 50th Cookie! He presents his records: a professor, five degrees, 117 arrests, a "Pied Piper of lunatics." He has endeared himself to Fay. She proceeds tearing up the records of each of her Cookies, setting them free in the "Don't Ballet."

News has spread throughout the town that the miracle of the water from the Rock has ended. Crowds threaten Hapgood as he and Fay (still disguised in her wig and costume) escape over the Rock.

Cora and her henchmen no sooner find the pair than a telegram arrives from the governor threatening to impeach the Mayoress if the 49 Cookies are not locked up. All leave to start the round-up except Fay and Hapgood. They argue about revealing the truth about the phony miracle. Hapgood says the Townspeople have to have something to believe in. Fay wants them to face the truth. She sings "See What It Gets You."

"The Cookie Chase" ballet follows with searchlights, police whistles, and machine guns while innocent bystanders are arrested, placed in straight-jackets, and anyone on the loose is netted and locked up in cages--all of it danced to a mad waltz.

Fay joins the frantic ballet in her Lady from Lourdes costume. Waltzing with Schub, she steals the key and unlocks the cages setting the victims free again. The chase continues. Fay screams "Fire! Hurricane! Run for your lives!"

Dr. Detmold, the administrator from the asylum, returns and recognizes Fay as Nurse Apple. Cora rips off Fay's wig. Fay admits to destroying the medical records on the Cookies and accuses the Mayoress and her cronies of faking the miracle. The mob turns against Fay and Hapgood comes to protect her.

Fay realizes she must identify the Cookies or innocent people will be locked up. She recites the names in alphabetical order: Brecht, Freud, Gandhi, et al. Quietly the Cookies sing "I'm Like the Bluebird" as they are marched off. Fay and Hapgood are alone. She has not turned him in because he and all the crazy people like him are the hope of the world. She tells him "you're marvelous and crazy. I'm competent and practical... ." They're an impossible match for each other. They sing "With So Little To Be Sure Of" and walk off in opposite directions, she back to her position at the asylum, he back to the outside world.

Bells are ringing. Townspeople are rushing from the town square toward the bells--to a new miracle in the next town. Even Chief Macgruder and Treasurer Cooley join them to see the new miracle. "Off with the old! On with the new!" Cora admits. She and Comptroller Schub decide on a new scheme to "turn the whole damn town into a Cookie Jar!" They joyously launch into a reprise of "I've Got You To Lean On."

Nurse Apple marches in with her Cookies. A new nurse arrives and takes over leading the Cookies toward the new miracle, singing "I'm Like The Bluebird" loud and clear.

Fay calls out to Hapgood. No answer. No sign of him. She places fingers to her mouth and produces a "shrill, piercing, ugly whistle." Hapgood appears laughing and says "That's good enough" as he takes her in his arms. Music swells and as they kiss The Rock gushes and drenches them with an enormous spout of water made up of all the colors of the rainbow as the play ends.

← Back to Anyone Can Whistle
Cast Size: Flexible Cast Size
Dance Requirements: Heavy

Character Breakdown

Fay Apple
The pretty, young nurse at The Cookie Jar. She falls in love with Hapgood. Meticulous, practical.
Gender: female
Age: 25 to 30
Vocal range top: D5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Cora Hoover Hooper
The rich and greedy Mayor who is hated by her people. Controlling and desperate.
Gender: female
Age: 35 to 45
Vocal range top: G5
Vocal range bottom: F3
J. Bowden Hapgood
Though he parades around as a doctor, Hapgood is the newest patient at The Cookie Jar. He is wild, whimsical, and charming.
Gender: male
Age: 35 to 45
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Comptroller Schub
The town's Comptroller and Cora's right-hand man. He is hotheaded and mean.
Gender: male
Age: 45 to 55
Vocal range top: F5
Vocal range bottom: A3
Treasurer Cooley
A former Preacher and the town Treasurer who was tossed out to pasture. Schub's right hand man. Scuzzy, slimy.
Gender: male
Age: 30 to 40
Vocal range top: G5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Chief Of Police Magruder
Serves as the Chief of Police and rounds out the trio of Cora's lackeys. He aims to please and gets excited when he does, but he is mostly a day late and a dollar short.
Gender: male
Age: 30 to 40
Vocal range top: F5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Mrs. Schroeder
Baby Joan's tough mother.
Gender: female
Age: 30 to 40
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: F3
Dr. Detmold
The fussy, gray-haired doctor of The Cookie Jar. A very busy man and a bit of a snob.
Gender: male
Age: 45 to 60
Cookies, Deputies, Townspeople, Pilgrims
Full Song List
Anyone Can Whistle: Opening - Act 1
Anyone Can Whistle: Me And My Town
Anyone Can Whistle: Miracle Song
Anyone Can Whistle: There Won't Be Trumpets
Anyone Can Whistle: Interrogation Part I--Simple
Anyone Can Whistle: Interrogation Part II
Anyone Can Whistle: Interrogation Part III
Anyone Can Whistle: Interrogation Part IV
Anyone Can Whistle: Interrogation Part V
Anyone Can Whistle: Interrogation Part VI
Anyone Can Whistle: A-1 March/Parade In Town
Anyone Can Whistle: Come Play Wiz Me
Anyone Can Whistle: Anyone Can Whistle
Anyone Can Whistle: I've Got You To Lean On
Anyone Can Whistle: Everybody Says Don't
Anyone Can Whistle: See What It Gets You
Anyone Can Whistle: Cora's Chase
Anyone Can Whistle: With So Little To Be Sure Of

Show History


An entirely original musical with little reference to other source material. Sondheim stated in a talkback after the 2010 Encores! City Center production that the storyline was, in fact, meant to mock the conformity of the Eisenhower era; a time when the growth of the suburbs boomed and a desire for comfort, security, and material goods like that of your neighbors became a much more common and achievable dream.


Anyone Can Whistle first opened at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia on March 2, 1964, where it ran as a three-week engagement in part of its pre-Broadway, out-of-town tour. Though it would be the third collaboration for creators Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents, it would mark only the second time Sondheim was credited as both composer and lyricist.

Anyone Can Whistle headed to New York City shortly thereafter, premiering at Broadway s Majestic Theatre on April 4, 1964. The opening night cast included Angela Lansbury, Harry Guardino, and Lee Remick.

The show closed after only nine performances and twelve previews. It has since become a cult classic and gone on to many successful runs regionally and internationally including such high profile stagings as two recent revivals in London s West End in 2003 and 2010, along with productions at the Matrix Theatre of Los Angeles, NYC's Carnegie Hall, Chicago s Ravinia Festival, and as part of the 2010 Encore! Concert Series.

Tony® Award

1964 - Choreographer, Nominee (Herbert Ross)
1964 - Best Choreography, Nominee (Herbert Ross)




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