There are many things which the first musical production of the Brno City Theatre will draw attention with this season. The performance Pískání po větru (Whistle Down the Wind) was staged at the Music Theatre and directed by Petr Gazdík, who also appeared in one of the main roles. Apart from the interesting dramaturgy, it is also the musical package of the title and its production as well as the main protagonists’ and numerous children actors’ performances.
The author of the musical Whistle Down the Wind is Andrew Lloyd Weber, whose world-famous pieces such as Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat have already been staged there. Of course, the uncrowned king of musicals has written more than these and on the list above probably only the Phantom of the Opera is missing. It is interesting, that the Brno theatre staged the piece from 1996 – which is in addition a Czech premiere - and which had to find its way to success despite the original unsuccessful American performance. Another bonus is the fact that this piece by Weber is not staged anywhere nearby and based on the information of the workers from the theatre in Brno, it is probably a continental premiere.
The staging of the title is also interesting from the point of view of the plot in the musical and its musical adaptation. The musical is titled as “mysterious” and it is based on the collision between the innocence of children and the pragmatic and cynical world of adults. The original story was written by Mary Hayley Bell at the end of the 1950s in the novel with the same name. Based on the book, a successful British film was made in 1961, which was introduced in this country under the name Mluviti do větru. The plot is quite simple. A group of children find a person who is most likely a fleeing criminal but they believe he is Jesus Christ. However, there is also another multiple member choir of adults, whose belief and perspective of the world is not as clear as the perspective of the children led by a teenage girl. From her large, devoted and unconditional love for the mysterious Man, whose stigmata on feet and hands are not from the cross, the final catharsis and the message of the musical is born. The purity of the children is untouchable and is capable of redemption, faith and love does not work in a church but it can be proven in everyday reality; and with the possible return of Christ it remains open… Biblical themes and slight Christological references, which are part of the simple plot situated at Christmas time in poor Louisiana, are, especially nowadays when there are so many refugees and immigrants, something like a delicate litmus paper of the audience’s mercy and charity and religious beliefs. In these unintended dramaturgical consequences I can see one of the strengths of this musical by Weber here and now.
Director Petr Gazdík knows that the musical is an especially elaborated dramatic, singing, motion and visual show. And he pulled it off in this non-pompous spectacle. With his stage setting, it is as if scenographer Emil Konečný moved away from local spectacularly staged musicals. The great portal as well as the entire area of the stage – maybe even a bit plainly – were filled with a set of giant vertical bars. Movable tables and translucent black curtains are used simply and realistically, so that various environments can be changed, out of which it is most often modern Bethlehem – i.e. a simple barn with bundles of straw where the Man is hiding.
A certain trick of the musical lies in the large children’s company, which amounts to forty little ones in two alternations. It must be admitted that the premiere half of these schoolchildren and preschoolers is employed by Gazdík with the help of the choreographer Carla Rebecca Jefferson in a way that these children do not embellish the production but they are actual actors in this musical. This can also be said about the leading trio, which was played at the premiere by Alena Juráčková, the director’s seven years old son Josef Gazdík and a grown up Eliška Skálová, who can still perfectly act as a teenage girl. The young actress with a soft soprano made a really interesting character, which does not take advantage of the viewer: in fact she bears the entire message of the performance. It is perhaps the most interesting performance of Skálová in Brno City Theatre. Petr Gazdík directed himself in the role of the Man. The experienced musical performer demonstrated a dramatic tenor part and proved that he manages to play characters pursued by fate, their own actions or their consciousness since the days of his role of Jean Valjean. From other performances one cannot forget the performance of Viktórie Matušovová as temperamental Candy, who can fill her singing not only with vigor and dramatic urgency, but also with a sure and flawless vocal display.
Perhaps the dancing and singing company put too much contra productive expression in the act. Even though viewers of musicals value the use of motion and gestures, less could have been better in this case. The singing enthusiasm and physical gusto of the little ones did not rely on audience disarming children's antics, but it had elements of disciplined direction, which can be attributed to Gazdík as a plus.
Whistle Down the Wind is a pleasant acting as well as musical experience. At some points Webber created extensively symphonic music, where he does not deny his fascination and experience with rock music, which is represented by guitars in this piece. The great musical passages are the work of musically precise orchestra with thirty five members under Dan Kalousek. And the Brno dwellers take it as commonplace that the musical is not played using half-playback, as can be found elsewhere due to economical reasons – the musical product and its audience consummation comes closer to the consummation of the imaginary theatre tin can. The viewer also encounters a series of chamber music performances, which are dominated by the above mentioned protagonists.
Whistle Down the Wind is thus a musical in Brno, which probably won’t astonish with a pompous story, costumes or dance performance, but it is still an interesting dramaturgical import and is especially one with its own characteristic stage form. It is a form of musical theatre, in which the story and message of the music should be approached from within by the viewer accustomed to an external effects show.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jim Steinman, Patricia Knop, Gale Edwards: Whistle Down the Wind. Director– Petr Gazdík, costumes– Andrea Kučerová, scene– Emil Konečný, musical arrangement– Martin Wiesner, musical study– Dan Kalousek. Swallow– Eliška Skálová, Brat– Alena Juráčková, Poor Baby – Josef Gazdík, Boone– Tomáš Sagher, Amos – Dušan Vitázek, Candy– Viktória Matušovová. 24October 2015, Brno City Theatre Brno, Musical Scene, premiere.