Welcome to a town that is so broke, only a miracle can save it. Its stalwart burghers are scheming to find a way back to their brand of prosperity - meaning businesses that can afford their kickbacks and special favors. In fact, the only business in town that seems to be booming is Dr. Detmold's Sanitarium for the Socially Pressured, which the locals call "The Cookie Jar." The mayoress, Cora Hoover Hooper, is the richest person in town and wildly unpopular with her constituents. But even she is blue about the status quo, which she laments with her admirers (Me And My Town). So depressed is Cora that she makes a sentimental visit to a huge rock on the outskirts of town, where she is joined by Schub, the town's comptroller who has a plan to save the town. Enter Baby Joan Schroeder, who appears to be in a trance. Her mother tells Cora the girl is simply thirsty, and, when Baby Joan steps up and licks the rock, water gushes forth - a miracle! The townspeople are elated, and Cora is enormously relieved. A latter-day Lourdes is born, and pilgrims flock to the rock, to be cured by the miraculous spring. Cora promises that, for a modest fee, chances are "you'll be anything whatever except you (Miracle Song)."
Cora is then shocked to discover that the miracle is a fake. When Schub reminds her that her newfound popularity is something of a miracle itself, she agrees - "a miracle is a miracle," she says, "if it works like a miracle!" Back at the shrine, trouble is brewing: Nurse Fay Apple has brought all 49 of the Cookies from Dr. Detmold's Cookie Jar to take the cure. Schub and his cohorts try to talk her out of her plans, threatening finally to throw her into jail. While they are arguing, the Cookies blend into the ticket line with the pilgrims. Fay refuses to identify the Cookies for Schub and when he tries to have her arrested, the Cookies help her escape. Alone, Fay bristles at the scheming of Schub and his associates, and she longs for a miracle of her own, the hero who will come and save her and the rest of the town - he may be an unlikely hero, though, and he may arrive only in the nick of time (There Won't Be Trumpets).
But there is a trumpet, plus thunder and lightning, to greet the arrival of Dr. J. Bowden Hapgood, who is to be Dr. Detmold's assistant. Schub and Cora try to enlist Hapgood in their effort to separate the Cookies from the pilgrims. He finally agrees, after Cora becomes especially persuasive. Hapgood begins to question the people standing in line for the Miracle Rock (Simple (The Interrogation)), but the dizzying procedure only confuses things more. He puts everyone into two groups, but no one can tell which group is the Cookies and which group isn't. The confusion becomes maddening as Cora and Schub try to get to the bottom of it, but Hapgood finally turns to the audience and says, "You are all mad." As the first act ends, the lights come up on the audience...which has been joined by everyone on stage who had been placed in the two groups, all now madly laughing and applauding.
The second act begins with Hapgood's two groups marching around the town square, singing his praises (Hooray For Hapgood). The good doctor enters in splendor, as Cora did in the first act, taking his followers with him when he exits. Schub stays behind and finds himself in the company of a mysterious redhead in dark glasses and a red-feathered boa. She is Colette Antoinette Alouette Minstinguette Alfabette, "Ze Lady from Lourdes" - Nurse Fay Apple, actually, masquerading as an investigator from the French shrine at Lourdes who has come to check out the Miracle Rock. A distressed Schub runs off, leaving Ze Lady alone when Hapgood reappears. They check out each other en francais, and Hapgood discovers that Ze Lady isn't really French. But he doesn't mind and answers her siren call (Come Play Wiz Me). Despite the wig - and the accent that goes with it - Fay identifies herself to Hapgood as he tries to seduce her. She is in hiding because she has with her the records that identify all the Cookies. But the French-lady disguise is also the only way Fay can let go of her need for control and order, the only way she can melt in Hapgood's embrace. He scoffs at her woman-of-science posturing: she is the one who wants a miracle. Hapgood is right. As much as she wants to, the real Fay can't let go, get drunk, or laugh. She can't even whistle, a gift she waits for in vain (Anyone Can Whistle).
Unhappy as he may be to learn the truth about Fay, Hapgood is still the man of the hour with the townspeople. They are still marching, still singing (Hooray For Hapgood Reprise), while Cora - once again unpopular now that Hapgood is in town - ponders this outrageous turn of events (A Parade In Town). She and Schub conspire to undo Hapgood's popularity. Hapgood urges Fay to tear up the Cookie Jar's records - get rid of the nurse by getting rid of the patients, and learn to let go. When she pushes him away, he bristles at the word "don't" (Everybody Says Don't). Hapgood starts to tear up the records. Fay tries to stop him, but he reveals to her that he, Dr. J. Bowden Hapgood, is really no doctor but actually the 50th Cookie - a once prominent professor of statistical philosophy who became an idealist when he realized that figures can prove anything you want them to prove. He tells Fay he is a retired Don Quixote but he could not resist trying to help her. She is so moved that she takes the first step in creating her own miracle: she tears up the records of the Cookie Jar.
Cora wants Miracle Rock shut down to avoid the scandal that will be inevitable when Ze Lady from Lourdes discovers it to be a fake. But they still have to deal with Hapgood and his popularity. She, Schub, and their cohorts plan to blame everything on Hapgood, from the fake miracle to the Cookies run amok. They take comfort in their complicity (I've Got You To Lean On). Once the deed is done and the Miracle Rock runs dry, the townspeople turn on Hapgood. He and Fay flee to the cave at the Miracle Rock, where they discover the pump that makes the miracle happen. Schub arrives with Cora and tells Hapgood the miracle will resume the minute he leaves. Then Cora learns that the governor threatens to have her impeached if the 49 missing Cookies are not back behind bars by sundown. She and Schub decide to round up 49 people at random and call them Cookies, since Hapgood's groups identify them all as being as mad as hatters. Fay tells Hapgood they can stop the craziness by telling the townspeople about the pump. Hapgood reminds her that it works, just like any miracle. Fay is stung by his willingness to go along with it (See What It Gets You).
Pandemonium reigns as everyone in authority sets out in search of the Cookies - "Are they breathing?" Cora asks, "Then they're Cookies." Fay trots out Ze Lady from Lourdes once more, to get Schub to give her the keys to the cage in which the Cookies are being held. She and Cora are finally at a standoff - It's Always A Woman they sing - that begins very cherchez la femme, and ends in a hail of name-calling. Dr. Detmold recognizes Fay, and, when Cora yanks off her wig, Schub demands she return the records for the Cookie Jar. Fay tries to reveal the fakery behind the miracle, but she is forced to identify the Cookies...all except Hapgood. She tells him he is the hope of the world. he asks Fay to come with him but they say goodbye (With So Little To Be Sure Of). As they part, the townspeople are seized by the excitement of a new miracle in a nearby town. The jig is up, and Cora and Schub know it. But there is always a new twist for them, another scheme; it may even involve marriage.
As Fay leads her Cookies past the forgotten Miracle Rock, en route to the new miracle, she stays behind for a moment to savor what she almost had. She calls for Hapgood, then tries to whistle, to no avail. She tries again, but this time there is a sound. It's shrill and ugly. But it is a whistle. "That's good enough," Hapgood says, appearing suddenly and taking Fay in his arms. Water spouts from the rock. A miracle? Why not?
- David Foil