Sean Lomax has been rehearsing for his role as the Loyal Whistler in the Cirque du Soleil show Corteo for the last four months. “We start rehearsing at 8 in the morning, do physical training in the afternoon, and rehearse some more until 10 at night,” Lomax tells Free Press Houston in a phone interview.
Corteo was originated by Cirque in 2005 and has seen various incarnations, the most recent being an expansion of the concept into an arena show.
Corteo operates like a circus procession as a clown imagines his own funeral.
A rotating stage gives audience members rotating views of the action. Divided into two acts, Corteo includes women dangling from huge chandeliers suspended over the floor as well as choreographed movements that take place within a giant spinning aluminum tube.
“You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes before you die,” asks Lomax. “That is the vision that the clown sees.”
Lomax’s mother took him to see The Sound of Music during its original release. The film was a revelation mainly because of its segments that deal with music mixed with whistle sounds. Think about “So Long Farewell,” with its flute refrain that sounds like a person whistling or the entire military whistle sequence that Christopher Plummer lords over as the children introduce themselves.
As an adult, Lomax competed and won the International Whistler’s Convention’s Grand Champion Whistler award. Twice — in 1989 and 1992. Lomax’s whistle has a range of three octaves.
In Corteo, Lomax plays The Loyal Whistler, a character trained in circus arts, but ex-military and a performer by nature.
“Eventually, in the second act, my real motives are revealed,” says Lomax. Although performing with a wireless mic Lomax claims, “You could hear me without it.
“Ever since I’ve first performed, I’ve had perfect pitch. My style of whistling encompasses everything from Bach to the Beastie Boys.”
At first it’s hard to come up with classic songs that involve whistling, but then Lomax names three without hesitation and you realize the pucker of the lips has influenced multiple generations.
There is Ennio Morricone’s powerful tune that accompanies The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; Bernard Herrmann’s haunting theme for Twisted Nerve, which was also heard in Kill Bill; and the theme to The Andy Griffith Show.
Lomax replies to another question by discussing Mongolian throat whistlers. He demonstrates the technique but over a cellular device the sound doesn’t do justice to his delivery.