Southwark Playhouse, London (****)
Somewhere down the line, this is the one that got away, the 1947 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, following Oklahoma! and Carousel that didn’t find favour and came off after a short run.
So what went wrong and what goes right for Thom Southerland and Danielle Tarento’s revival, amazingly marking Allegro’s European premiere?
Southerland and Tarento have an extraordinary, not to say unequalled, way with musicals in small spaces – especially Southwark Playhouse. Titanic, Grey Gardens, Grand Hotel – it’s an ever growing stream to which one can now add Allegro – a show that once again shows off their talent for casting, choreography and concept.
Southerland gets most things right summoning Lee Proud to once again work his magic with dynamic choreography and a superb chorus. The leads too, notably Gary Tushaw (a revelation) as Joseph Taylor – pause – Jr learning the lessons of life, could hardly be bettered.
Overall, it’s a brilliant display. But – and it’s a big `But’ – where perhaps Allegro is less fortunate is in its narrative tone, or `book’.
The `musical’, as a genre has always, it seems to me, had a tendency to err on the side of sentimentality. Hammerstein’s great idea is to take a young man, the son of a doctor, from birth to middle age and show him – like Peer Gynt but not a bit like Gynt – finding home is where the heart truly is and his true vocation as a caring doctor.
Absolutely nothing wrong with that, indeed laudable and moving. But set in small-town USA, even Richard Rodgers’s innate tuneful craftsmanship can’t save some of the early scenes from descending into schmaltz such as the hymn to marital constancy A Fellow Needs a Girl (and a girl needs a fella by her side, sings the wife).
The interesting thing about Allegro, however, is that being Rodgers & Hammerstein, it isn’t just corn-ball. You can feel them struggling to birth something new particularly in the way the chorus is used as commentary and commentators; every character too is rounded and has its moment of concrete reality; and the second half in which our hero’s bubble bursts in a frenetic, greasy-poled, social climbing Chicago positively bursts with edgy electricity mirrored in Proud’s wonderful zig-zaggy choreography.
So, toe-curling though it may be in moments, Allegro – at least in Southerland’s hands – is far from a dud. Plaudits indeed all round, especially the Band, hidden away invisible to the naked eye…aren’t they the heroes!
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
First perf & European premiere of Allegro at Southwark Playhouse, Aug 5, 2016; runs to Sept 10, 2016
Emily West; Katie Bernstein
Jennie Brinker: Emily Bull
Ned Brinker: David Delve
Molly: Cassandra McCowan
Harry Buckley: Matthew McDonald
Marjorie Taylor: Julia J Nagle
Hazel Skinner: Louise Olley
Bertram Woolhaven: Benjamin Purkiss
Miss Luscombe: Jacqueline Tate
Brook Lansdale: Samuel Thomas
Grandma Taylor: Susan Travers
Charlie Townsend: Dylan Turner
Joseph Taylor Jr: Gary Tushaw
Dr Joseph Taylor: Steve Watts
Beulah/Mrs Lansdale: Leah West
Bigby Denby: Matthew Woodyatt
Keys (MD): Dean Austin
Bass: Doug Grannell
Drums/Percussion: Nick James
Reed 1: Jamie Fathers
Reed 2: Sophie Creaner
Trumpet: Tom Harrison
Trombone: Jane Salmon
French Horn: Emily Burley
Director: Thom Southerland
Orchestrator: Mark Cumberland
Choreographer: Lee Proud
Set Designer: Anthony Lamble
Costume Designer: Jonathan Lipman
Lighting Designer: Derek Anderson
Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson
Music Director: Dean Austin
Voice/Accent Coach: Simon Money
Casting Director: Danielle Tarento
Producer: Danielle Tarento