Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Charming Production of
Playhouse West is currently presenting the west coast premier of a very little known musical, Whispers on the Wind, by John K. Kuntz and Lor Crane. This is a whimsical coming of age musical for the whole family. Artistic Director Lois Grandi has resurrected this long lost musical that premiere at the Theatre de Lys in New York's Greenwich Village on June 3, 1970. Wally Harper, who is now Barbara Cook's arranger, was the conductor, and the original cast boasted two female singers who were to become famous. Karen Morrow and Nancy Dussault played the female leads while David Cryer, Patrick Fax and Joe Ponazechi took the three male leads. An LP was made of the score by the Friends of Lincoln Center with the original cast in 1970 and a studio album was made in 1971 with Mary Louise Wilson replacing Ms. Morrow in the role.
Whispers on the Wind had a very short lifespan with 13 previews and only 9 performances. This fragile musical was up against some big Broadway musicals, contributing to the demise of this sweet piece. An impending actors' strike also didn't help matters. Few productions have been launched since the initial New York engagement. Grandi happened to be in New York perusing plays at the Samuel French bookstore last year when she rediscovered Whispers. She found out that composer John B. Kuntz was still living in New York and she sought his permission to present the musical to west coast audiences. It was granted.
Whispers on the Wind is reminiscent of The Fantasticks and Our Town. The lovely score has a Harvey Schmidt touch and is very winsome. It is like something you would have seen in a late night light review in the Village in the '70s.
Whispers is a story of growing up in the '50s and '60s. It's the story of a young man from his childhood in a small town in Ohio through his adulthood as he encounters the complex world of business, love, romance and marriage in a big city.
Lois Grandi has signed on a splendid cast of actors to take on various roles in the presentation. Robb Hedges, who appeared as Tom Sawyer in the production of Big River in Los Angeles, plays the young man growing up into adulthood. He has a smooth voice and projects a young boy to adulthood splendidly. Joshua Powell, who is primary an opera singer, has a powerful voice, almost a little too booming for this small theater. His enunciation is perfect. The third male singer, Morgan Mackay who plays various roles, is excellent also.
The two female roles are portrayed by singers who are well known to Bay Area audiences. Caroline Altman and Lisa Peers are pleasurable in their various roles. Ms. Altman is outstanding in the song "Prove I'm Really Here," and Ms. Peers is especially enjoyable in the song "Neighbors." The harmony of all five in "Strawberries," "Apples and Raisins" and "Whispers on the Wind" is first class.
Dave Dobrusky is the pianist for this production. However, Dobrusky was away on the Sunday matinee performance and a replacement was brought in who has a tendency to pound the piano a little too much. Several of Robb Hedges songs were drowned out. Doug Ham provides a strange set design which is basically yellow and greens with blocks representing stairs. The colors are very glaring to the eye.
Whispers on the Wind continues at Playhouse West through Sunday, July 21. For tickets call 925-942-0300.