The annual Antoinette Perry Awards will be presented this Sunday at Radio City Music Hall so “Trove Thursday” commemorates that event with a celebrated Broadway flop that didn’t win a single Tony—a complete live performance of Stephen Sondheim’s wildly eccentric Anyone Can Whistle featuring the divine Audra McDonald as Fay, Michael Cerveris as Hapgood and (oh well) Patti Lupone as the ruthless Mayoress. 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sondheim’s first show as both composer and lyricist, opened in 1962 to great acclaim and ran nearly 1,000 performances. Anyone followed two years later and was greeted with nearly universal pans and lasted just nine shows. Arthur Laurents’s book about a faked “miracle” cooked up by the corrupt bureaucracy running a bankrupt town whose only thriving enterprise is an insane asylum was greeted with much head-scratching. Luckily CBS produced an original cast recording that preserved much of Sondheim’s brilliant and challenging score.

And what a cast: Angela Lansbury in her first stage musical as Cora along with a vocally rough but touching Lee Remick and Harry Guardino.

My only live experience with the show was the revival by City Center’s Encores series in 2010, a rollicking semi-staged version with a pretty wonderful team—Donna Murphy’s fierce, bravura Mayoress and Sutton Foster as Fay soaring together with Raul Esparza’s Hapgood in one of Sondheim’s greatest, most moving songs:

Although she’s appropriately cast here as a fire-breathing Cora, Lupone nearly always rubs me the wrong way. I was intrigued by John Doyle’s 2005 Broadway production of Sweeney Todd with Cerveris in the title role but just couldn’t face her Mrs. Lovett. In a self-video Michael Burbach irresistibly illustrates my qualms.

Eventually I learned that wonderful Judy Kaye would be replacing the vacationing Lupone for several weeks so I rushed to the theater. When I asked for the show I wanted, the ticket agent sniffed and haughtily proclaimed that Lupone wouldn’t be performing that week. So I explained that that was exactly why I had chosen that date; he and the other two guys behind the box office grill then gasped in unison.

The three musicals McDonald performed at the Ravinia Festival may be her only complete Sondheim shows so far. Passion was also brought to Lincoln Center and televised on PBS, but Anyone and Sunday in the Park with George have only circulated in “pirate” audio captures. A favorite pastime of Sondheim fans is to cast fantasy revivals of Follies; based on the excerpt I heard at the 80th birthday extravaganza held at Avery Fisher Hall no one today is better suited to Sally than McDonald, especially after Bernadette Peters’s awful portrayal in the 2011 revival.

If some are curious about McDonald and Cerveris as Dot and George in Sunday I’ll post it on a future “Trove Thursday.”

Sondheim: Anyone Can Whistle
Ravinia Festival
August 2005
In-house recording

Cora Hoover Hooper – Patti LuPone
Fay Apple – Audra McDonald
J. Bowden Hapgood – Michael Cerveris
Controller Schub – Ray Wills
Treasurer Cooley – Jerry Galante
Chief of Police Magruder – David Mendes
Dr. Detmold – Peter Mohawk
June – Christine Sherrill
John – Jason Bayle
Telegraph Boy – Joshua Johnston
Four Boys – Parrish Collier, Andrew J. Waters, Richard Strimer and Darius Fearrington

Narrator – John Mahoney

The Ravinia Festival Orchestra

Paul Gemignani – conductor

To download Anyone, just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

In addition to this week’s Sondheim, a full original-cast performance of Follies, the recent Paris revival of Passion with Natalie Dessay and more than 70 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts are available from iTunes (for free!) or via any RSS reader.