Allegro gets a new lease of life

Reporter: Sandra Giorgetti

Dateline: 13th August, 2016

Rodgers and Hammerstein's near miss

On the back of Oklahoma! (1943) and Carousel (1945)—two long–running hits that for more than a year ran concurrently in theatres across the road from each other—Rodgers and Hammerstein's Allegro surpassed all records for advanced sales.

With dance revolutionary Agnes de Mille (whose Rodgers and Hammerstein's hits and Brigadoon were already amongst her Broadway choreographer credits) both directing and choreographing this new and out of the ordinary show, what could go wrong?

History has answered that question with "a fair bit".

Previously, the duo had based their shows on existing writing, but in creating something entirely new Rodgers and Hammerstein were able to experiment with new ideas, such as putting a Greek Chorus into a musical and one that directly addresses the audience at that.

The innovation didn’t stop there. Parts of the story would be told through dance and the set would be non–representational.

By all accounts, overused and overlong dances and an unwieldy company of some 150, made up of cast, Greek Chorus, singing chorus and dance chorus, at least contributed to the show's lack of success.

Much has been said and written in the past about Allegro as a "flop" and its de facto near disappearance but a more compassionate view has come to the fore with Stephen Sondheim at the vanguard.

In 1947, the teenaged Sondheim was gofer on Allegro and his more honest recalibration of the facts rates the show as, more importantly, a "disappointment".

This is a much fairer representation of the show's generally positive critical response, 315-performance run and, albeit lacklustre, tour.

But significantly, this appraisal reflects the writers' heartfelt discontent that the show was not realised as they had intended.

For Hammerstein, this was all the more so because of the autobiographical elements threaded through the story. What Joe becomes in Allegro was what had become of the celebrated lyricist.

Joe returned to his roots and Hammerstein went on to write South Pacific, The King and I and…

Allegro plays the Southwark Playhouse until 10 September.