Directed for the Backlot Players by Marion McDougall and Tullye Ralph and accompanied by a three-piece band, “Whistle Down the Wind” is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s least well-recognized plays. It opens on their stage Friday.
“The story is about an escaped prisoner, known only as The Man. The Man is hiding in the barn of a family in a small town in Louisiana in 1959. Swallow, the 15-year-old daughter, finds him in the barn and when she asks who he is, his only words are “Jesus Christ” and then he faints,” McDougall explained.
“She thinks he’s Jesus come back to life, and along with her younger sister, Brat, and brother, Poor Baby, and the town’s other children, who also think he’s Jesus, they try to keep him safe from the townspeople who are hunting him.”
Other characters in the play include Amos, a young boy who flirts with the town bad girl, Candy, but secretly has a crush on Swallow; Boone, Swallow’s father; Edward, their handyman; the town minister; the sheriff; a snake preacher and his helper; and a chorus of townspeople.
The lead cast member is The Man, and is played by Greg Nickle, who, thanks to his son’s efforts, have made this a family affair.
“He will be fantastic. His son, Maxwell, is also in the play and convinced his father to attend auditions with him. Greg Nickle wavered before he decided to try. Then he sang for us and it was absolutely amazing. We all knew there was our Man,” McDougall said. “This is his first time on the stage in many years. He is doing great.”
The Nickle’s aren’t the only family sharing the stage together.
“We have a couple of other families, including Lindsey Kinsella (Swallow) and her twin sister, Sharon, who plays a member of the chorus. Amos is being played by Ben West and Candy is played by Tiffani Dean, whose father and brother are also in the play,” she said. “All total, there are 11 children in our cast and the talent there is really just amazing.”
After seeing the play in London in 2000, McDougall said she just “fell in love the music.”
“It was just beautiful and totally captivating. This play wasn’t released in the U.S. extensively and I’m not totally sure why. All I can think is that seeing British actors talking with a Southern accent is definitely a bit jarring,” she said. “We, of course, are speaking with natural Georgia accents.”
The production’s set and costuming really helps to set the scene for the time period.
“Our set moves quickly from scene to scene and the sets were done by Connie Copelan. They are fairly simple, but very evocative of the South from that time period. They are really just wonderful,” she said. “The actors are dressing the way I remember 1959, which is when I graduated from high school. We went as authentic as we could, but everyone is just wearing plain clothes. It’s a dark story -- with absolutely beautiful music -- and we didn’t want to distract from it.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Whistle Down The Wind”
When: 8 p.m. July 24-25, 31 and Aug. 1; 2 p.m. July 26 and Aug. 2
Where: Rose Theater, 23 W. Johnston St., Forsyth
Cost: $15 adults; $12 seniors, students and active military
Information: 478-994-0443; www.thebacklotplayers.org