Allegro

Music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Southwark Playhouse

Southwark Playhouse

From 09 August 2016 to 10 September 2016

Review by Sandra Giorgetti

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So after nearly seven decades since it was seen on Broadway, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Allegro rises from the ashes and receives its professional European première courtesy of musical theatre golden boy Thom Southerland, paring up again with producer Danielle Tarento.

Southerland has taken a scalpel to the piece and laborious dance routines are nowhere to be seen in this work that is presented in traverse.

For my money it could have been cut further as there is insufficient plot to sustain a two and a half hour show but the singing is almost universally superb and it would be a pity to lose that.

Musical director Dean Austin has done a wonderful job with some of the ensemble pieces soaring up to the rafters heavenly choir style somewhat reminiscent of Rodgers and Hammerstein's earlier Carousel.

That is quite a feat with a 16-strong cast from whom Southerland also draws thoughtful and moving performances.

Set designer Anthony Lamble has incorporated into his design the very spirit of that used in the original production, providing multi–level performance areas, whose fluid reconfiguration by the cast allows for an uninterrupted narrative.

The high level scenes require some neck–craning of the audience (so the best seats in the house are not in the front row) and the near–continuous movement of the set's pieces in the first act becomes a little annoying but things calm down in this respect after the interval.

Dance is integral to Allegro and the telling of its story and the choreography of Lee Proud is terrific, even if it rather overfills the space on occasion, and must be similar in effect to that of Agnes de Mille in the show's original production.

One of the early intentions of the piece was that it would tell the story of Joe Taylor from birth to death but in the event it took him from birth to re–birth.

We are taken from Joe's arrival into the world, through his first steps, falling in love and leaving home for college, studying to follow in his father's footsteps to study medicine and serve his community.

The long stretch from starting medical training to having a successful practice is too much for ambitious sweetheart Jennie though. Egged on by the Chorus, she schemes and manipulates him first into an early marriage and then out of the country town where they were born and raised and into the big city where riches await.

Working at a big hospital finds Joe increasingly compromised; the wealthy patrons of the hospital must be indulged if he is to keep his job and keep his wife happy. His life spins increasingly out of his control and he stops seeing what is going on around him.

First one epiphany and then a second larger one sees him grasp it back to realise Allegro's happy and just resolution.

Hammerstein's wish to manifest through the story, "the conflict between your responsibility to your community and your responsibility to yourself" as Hammerstein protégé Sondheim puts it, is lost however.

Even in Southerland's careful working, the "wholesome country life = good" / "corrupt city life = bad" setting risks drowning out the true, for which read, intended, message of the show.

The score is everything we expect of Rodgers and lyricist Hammerstein puts tenderness and wit in the lyrics, "A Fellow Needs a Girl" and "The Gentleman is a Dope" being cases in point.

Hammerstein the book writer however loses his way. The storyline sags in places and Jennie's character is flatly written leaving unanswered the question of why Joe is so besotted with her.

Right up to his death, Hammerstein was thinking about re–writing the second act of Allegro and it is a shame he didn’t. It could have been wonderful—it has the makings of a Rodgers and Hammerstein hit.

In the circumstances, the talented Southerland and his team have done great things and Allegro is worth forgiving for its weaknesses and seeing for its merits.

(For some background on Rodgers and Hammerstein's Allegro, see our feature article "Allegro gets a new lease of life".)