The story concerns a corrupt mayoress, an idealistic nurse, a man who may be a doctor, and various officials, patients and townspeople, all fighting to save a bankrupt town. This musical was Angela Lansbury's first stage musical role.
The story is set in an imaginary American town that has gone bankrupt. The only place in town doing good business is the local sanitarium, known as “The Cookie Jar,” whose inmates look much healthier than the disgruntled townspeople. I'm Like the Bluebird All the money is in the hands of Cora Hoover Hooper, the stylish, ruthless mayoress and her cronies - Comptroller Schub, Treasurer Cooley, and Police Chief Magruder. Cora appears carried in a litter by her backup singers, and admits that she can accept anything except unpopularity (“Me and My Town”). The scheming Comptroller Schub, tells her that he has a plan to save her administration, and the town, promising “It's highly unethical.” He tells her to meet him at the rock on the edge of town. At the rock, a local mother, Mrs. Schroeder, tries to tell her child, Baby Joan, to come down from the rock, when Baby Joan licks it - and a spring of water begins flowing from it. The town instantly proclaims a miracle, and Cora and her council eagerly anticipate tourist dollars as they boast of the water's curative powers. Miracle Song It is soon revealed to Cora that the miracle is a fake, controlled by a pump inside the rock. The only person in town who doubts the miracle is Fay Apple, an eternally skeptical young nurse from the Cookie Jar who refuses to believe in miracles. She appears at the rock with all forty-nine of the inmates, or “Cookies” in tow, intending to let them take some of the water. Schub realizes that if they drink the water and do not change, people will discover the fake. As he tries to stop Fay, the inmates mingle with the townspeople, until no one can guess who is who. Fay disappears, and hiding from the police, admits that she hopes for one miracle - for a hero who can come and deliver the town from the madness (“There Won't Be Trumpets”). Cora arrives on the scene with the Cookie Jar's manager, Dr. Detmold, but he says that Fay has taken the records to identify the inmates. He tells Cora that he is expecting a new assistant who might help them. At that moment a mysterious stranger, J. Bowden Hapgood, arrives asking for directions to the Cookie Jar. He is instantly taken for the new assistant. Asked to identify the missing Cookies, Hapgood begins questioning random people and sorting them into two groups, group A, and group one, but refuses to divulge which group is which. The town council becomes suspicious of this and try to force the truth out, but Hapgood questions them until they begin to doubt their own sanity. Cora is too caught up with his logic to care. (“Simple”) As the extended musical sequence ends, the lights black out except for a spotlight on Hapgood, who announces to the audience, “You are all mad!” Seconds later, the stage lights are restored. The stage set has vanished, and the cast is revealed in theater seats, holding programs, applauding the audience.
As act two opens, the two groups are now in bitter rivalry over who is the normal group (“A-1 March”) Another stranger, a French woman in a feathered coat appears. It is really Fay Apple in disguise. She introduces herself as the Lady from Lourdes, a professional Miracle Inspector, come to investigate the miracle. As Schub runs off to warn Cora, Fay seeks out Hapgood in his hotel, and the two seduce each other in the style of a French romantic film. (“Come Play Wiz Me”) Fay tries to get Hapgood's help in exposing the miracle. Hapgood, however, sees through her disguise and wants to question her first. Fay refuses to take her wig off, and confesses to him that this disguise, left over from a college play, is the only way she can break out of her rigid and cynical persona. She begins to hope, however, that Hapgood may be the one who can help her learn to be free. (“Anyone Can Whistle”) Meanwhile, the two groups continue to march, and Cora, trying to give a speech, realizes that Hapgood has stolen her limelight. (“A Parade in Town”) She and Schub plan an emergency meeting at her house. Back at the hotel, Hapgood comes up with an idea, telling Fay to destroy the inmates' records. That way Fay can be free of them and they can stop pretending. When Fay is reluctant, Hapgood produces a record of his own - he is her fiftieth Cookie. He is a practicing idealist who, after years of attempted heroism, is tired of crusading and has come to the Cookie Jar to retire. Inspired by his record, Fay begins to tear the records up. As she does, the Cookies appear and begin to dance (“Everybody Says Don't”).
Act three begins with Cora at her house with her council. Schub has put the miracle on hiatus, but announces that they can easily turn the town against Hapgood by blaming him for it. The group celebrates their alliance. (“I've Got You to Lean On”) A mob quickly forms outside the hotel, and Hapgood and Fay, still disguised, take refuge under the rock. Discovering the fraud, Cora and the council confront them. At that moment, Cora receives a telegram from the governor warning that if the quota of forty-nine cookies is not filled, she will be impeached. Schub tells her that since Hapgood never said who is normal or not, they can arrest anyone at random until the quota is filled. Fay tries to get Hapgood to expose the miracle, but he warns her no one will believe it is a fake, because it works as a miracle should. Fay wants his help stopping the Mayoress, but he refuses, since he is through with crusading. Although she knows she still isn't out of her shell, Fay angrily swears to go it alone. (“See What it Gets You”) As Cora and the police force begin rounding up Cookies, Fay tries to get the key away from the guards in an extended ballet sequence. (“The Cookie Chase”) As it ends, Fay is captured, and Dr. Detmold suddenly recognizes her. Fay tells the townspeople about the fake miracle, but the town refuses to believe her. Detmold tells Cora that even without the records, Fay can identify the inmates from memory. Cora warns that she will arrest forty-nine people, normal or not, and Fay, helplessly, identifies all the Cookies, except Hapgood. She tells him the world needs people like him, and Hapgood can't turn himself in. He asks Fay to come with him, but she still can't bring herself to break free. Parting ways, they reflect on what they briefly shared. (“With So Little to be Sure Of”) Word comes of a new miracle, two towns over, of a statue with a warm heart. Soon the town is all but deserted, and Cora is again upstaged. Again, Schub has the answer - since the Cookie Jar is still successful, they can turn the entire town into one big Cookie Jar! Cora realizes she and Schub are meant for each other, and they dance off together. As Fay resumes work, Detmold's real new assistant arrives, and Fay is horrified to realize that she is even more practical, rigid and disbelieving than Fay herself, and the new nurse marches the Cookies off to the next town to disprove the new miracle. Horrified at seeing what she might become, Fay returns to the rock calling for Hapgood. When he doesn't answer, she tries to whistle - and succeeds in blowing a shrill, ugly whistle. Hapgood appears again, saying 'That's good enough for me.' As they embrace, the water begins flowing from the rock - a true miracle this time. (Finale)