Originally published on The Reviews Hub
Awarded 3.5 stars – Comfortable
Their first collaborative show opened and they were hailed as innovators, visionary artists that were transforming the musical theatre scene for the 21st Century. They followed this up with the musical play, now an adopted genre across the world for hundreds of thousands of spectators to enjoy. So what would be next in the repertoire of Rodgers and Hammerstein? Allegro is born, the musical about a normal man with a normal life, dealing with universal feelings that speak to each one of us. Or so they hoped.
Despite being nearly 60 years old, Allegro receives its European premiere thanks to award-winning producer and co-founder of the Menier Chocolate Factory, Danielle Tarento. Told in what is now considered to have a classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical formula, it charters the (sickly sweet) existence of Joseph Taylor Jr. (Gary Tushaw), your average Joe with a loving family, mischievous friends and ambitious wife. Following in his father Dr. Joseph Taylor’s (Steve Watts) footsteps, Joe takes up the family profession, much to the disdain of childhood sweetheart Jennie Brinker (Emily Bull). The pull of the bright lights, big city draw them both in, only to spit him out the other side when, after pressures and promotions and the promise of family life wanes, Joe finally decides to go back home.
In this age of modern theatre programmed to shock, surprise and command a visceral, opinionated response, it can be easy to think of a classic musical as being too soft, too homely and altogether too safe for the stage. Indeed Allegro, with its ‘gee whiz’ and ‘oh my’ idiosyncrasies and the perfect man and wife couple, A Fellow Needs A Girl 1950s ethic, slots straight into the bracket of the past, a bracket that we can easily consider quaint and archaic in our progressive, feminist, Work Hard Play Hard cosmopolitan society. For 2½ hours, Southwark Playhouse presents a comfortable feeling, a great big hug in a mug.
But genre aside, Thom Southerland has brought to the stage an homage to this era, an interpretation that pays tribute to the founding fathers of the modern stage generation while adding flourished of modern, out of the box creativity. Anthony Lamble’s set is a jigsaw, earthy and rooted in deep wood that conjures up images of rocking chairs on porches in the mid-West yet is supple enough to transform from home to work to wedding. A bare-bones set that speaks volumes and is particularly clever in tracking Joe’s childhood with puppetry – even then someone was pulling his strings. Likewise, Lee Proud’s choreography punctuates key ensemble pieces, classic dance styles (Lindy Hop, Charleston, Jitterbug) fuse to more military style percussive routines designed to evoke the hustle and bustle of the city, the Yatata Yatata Yatata that underpins the musical number of the show. It is this number, as well as the title number that rounds off the show, that gives the ensemble opportunity to shine – Leah West and Benjamin Purkiss lead the way with clean lines and a timeless class.
Vocally the performers are more in tune with the expected Rodgers and Hammerstein tone; the lead singers Joe (Tushaw) and Marjorie Taylor (Julia J Nagle) add depth, heady vibrato and diaphragmatic control. The operetta style outweighs the modern musical voice here and the production is all the better for it. As is typical with this style, though, the reprisals fall flat with this cast – they underpin the storyline but never have the same impact as the initial full performance, despite the overall vocal strength of the ensemble as Joe’s inner conscience and Greek chorus.
Southerland’s production of Allegro does justice to its creators while also applying to the Southwark Playhouse’s progressive setting, the catwalk stage akin to past musical productions such as Grand Hotel. A strong orchestra effectively emulates the musical genius of Rodgers with ebb and flow. The name itself is a bit of a contradiction since in comparison to modern counterparts Allegro can hardly be considered to be fast-moving. while not a shocking or heavily opinionated piece, it is nevertheless a well-conceived tribute to the forefathers of the genre.
Book & Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Music: Richard Rodgers
Director: Thom Southerland
Musical Director: Dean Austin
Choreographer: Lee Proud
Runs until 10 Sept 2016| Image: Annabel Vere