Monday, 15 August 2016

Review Allegro


Allegro
Book and Lyrics Oscar Hammerstein II
Music Richard Rodgers

Notes From A Small Town
http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/ 

A new day and a new musical - new to us, that is! Allegro, a lesser known 1947 Rogers and Hammerstein show which followed Oklahoma!, the movie musical State Fair and Carousel in their canon and before they thematically travelled outside the United States for South Pacific.

In Rodgers and Hammerstein terms, it was a flop, although still notched up a respectable 315 Broadway performances and even, according to some accounts, made a small profit, although it failed to transfer to London for a run.

Inspired in theme by Our Town, the plot follows the life of Joseph Taylor jr (Gary Tushaw), the son of a doctor (Steve Watts), in rural small town America.

In a kind of Portrait of The Medic As A Young Man (and maybe influenced by Scottish novel The Citadel),  we're taken on a psychological and literal journey from Joe's birth in 1905 to his midlife crisis  after he finds his medical ideals tarnished by Chicago hospital boards, trustees and big business.

And in Thom Southerland's engaging production, it feels like a transitional piece, a show deliberately exploring and willing to confront unfinished business.

After a quick Google about American politics in this period, we feel, in some ways, the trajectory of this musical with unresolved finale reflects a question mark hanging over American government at the time.

Harry S Truman had become president following FD Roosevelt's premature death and was trying to push through his "Fair Deal" with its call for universal health insurance, never enacted during his tenure, and the giving of federal aid for the construction of hospitals in poorer areas of America. 

Indeed there may even be a direct political musical reference with the first song Joseph Taylor Jr reminding us of a July Garland hit, written by Harold Rome, Franklin D Roosevelt Jones.

Allegro, of course, is an Italian word, both a musical term for "fast, quickly and bright" and a dance term meaning brisk or fast steps incorporating any step where a dancer jumps. The choreography for the 16-strong cast by Lee Proud is equally bright and breezy with Dean Austin leading a band of eight with keys, bass, drums, reeds, trumpet, trombone and French horn. 

Played in the traverse, it dawned (we hope correctly!) on TLT and her own little motorised helpmate that the mobile ladders and configurations designed by Alexander Lamble reflected musical, as well as wooden, staves so that the cast itself becomes part of a visual musical notation.

So this innovative show with fragmented songs and choric commentary works on several levels.

A visual musical composition, a straightforward, some would say hokey tale, of a young man drawn away from his vocation to keep up an affluent lifestyle which had become far more precarious since the Wall Street Crash, the career and compromises of Rodgers and Hammerstein themselves and the politcal atmosphere of the time.

While some may criticise the lyrics of songs like"A Fellow Needs A Girl", it struck us with harder edged songs such as The Gentleman Is A Dope sung with characterful verve and vigour by Kate Bernstein as Nurse Emily West and the title song Allegro about the tempo of modern life and money, there's more to this piece than a homely fable. Juxtaposition brings irony and hope.

This is an enjoyable production of a rarely-seen piece. Emily Bull brings depth and takes the audience along with her in  the role of wayward, ambitious wife Jennie while Julia J Nagel displays soaring vocals as watchful mother Marjorie.

It's perhaps not a perfect show, but then life ain't perfect either and we give Allegro an uncompromised green light for a delicately precise and tender production.       

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