Pros: A luxurious score from Richard Rodgers and poignant lyrics from Oscar Hammerstein II.
Cons: A big production in a small venue left me wondering what it would have been like on a bigger stage.
Allegro exposes yet another hole in my knowledge of Broadway theatre as I had no idea of its existence until now. The show represented a rare miss in a procession of hits for Rodgers and Hammerstein. It was the follow up to Carousel but closed on Broadway in 1947 after only 9 months. The show was apparently viewed as too moralistic and was subsequently never staged outside the US.
Thankfully times change, as the narrative feels anything but moralistic; more a tale of duty versus ambition backed with a typically operatic score from Richard Rodgers. The story concentrates on Joseph Taylor Jr. and major life events as he grows into adulthood. The son of a local doctor, he follows his father into the medical profession. He contentedly settles into the family practice, but soon meets and falls in love with Jennie Brinker. She dreams of a family and comfortable lifestyle that Joseph’s meagre salary will never bring. Jennie persuades Joseph to accept a lucrative partnership in the city; but he is torn by the desire to support his local community and satisfy Jennie’s aspirations. He reluctantly accepts the new position but wonders where his heart truly lies.
Songs of quality support the narrative in a cohesive piece with some real standouts; You Are Never Away, A Fellow Needs a Girl and Come Home are numbers that stick in your head when you’re on the train home. The props are minimal and heavily improvised. The set consists of two folding ladders and a moving gantry, but cleverly allow the action to move in a confined space. A wooden mannequin represents Joe as a child and is used to great effect on One Foot, Other Foot. Perhaps the only chink in the production’s armour is the lack of space that allows a musical to stretch out and fully breathe. That minor quibble aside, the Southwark Playhouse is, as always a charming venue with a wonderfully intimate feel. The 16 strong company were drilled to perfection as they found their marks in a tight performance area. The choreography was crisp and orchestration well controlled by an 8-piece band hidden behind a screen. I was pleased to see them take their bow with the cast at the end. The cast were impressive throughout and performed without noticeable fault. Gary Tushaw as Joe Jr. and Emily Bull as Jennie were excellent leads, but Steve Watts grabbed the cigar with a powerful turn as Dr. Joseph Taylor. I certainly felt privileged to witness the European premiere of a classic sleeper, and don’t know why it took so long for the show to reach these shores. But now it is here, we should embrace it as a new musical from two legends of musical theatre.
Music: Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Director: Thom Sutherland
Musical Director: Dean Austin
Orchestrator: Mark Cumberland
Choreographer: Lee Proud
Producer: Danielle Taranto & RH Theatricals Europe
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking link: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/allegro/#booking
Booking until: 10 September 2016