Allegro continues at the Southwark Playhouse, London until 10 September.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Allegro, written in 1947, falls between Carousel (1945) and South Pacific (1949) in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s prolific output. These two shows were staged at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in succession, but Allegro is only now receiving its first professional production in the UK at Southwark Playhouse.
With the team of director Thom Southerland and producer Danielle Tarento in place, it emerges as a most engaging period piece with a melodically rich score that is propelled along under Dean Austin’s alert musical direction.
Allegro has an original book (and lyrics) by Oscar Hammerstein that resonates 70 years on as healthcare occupies so much news space on both sides of the Atlantic.
In this show an idealistic young doctor is tempted away by an ambitious wife to a wealthy practice in Chicago. He returns home at the end of the tale, but not before denouncing his city practice, his rich clients and their fundraising clientele in a powerful speech, echoing Hammerstein’s own writing career.
When Hammerstein became preoccupied with helping other people’s causes, notably in his support of Paul Robeson, it was considered controversial enough to cause him trouble when his passport came up for renewal in 1953.
Allegro has been staged with the minimum of fuss: stepladders, planks and portable towers run smoothly across the stage, emphasising the fluid progression of the story the authors intended when they gave their brief to their original director/choreographer Agnes de Mille.
There’s a Greek chorus commenting on the passage of time that runs from Dr Joseph Jnr’s birth, through high school, courtship and wedding to final homecoming to the restrained ballad ‘Come Home’, pitched perfectly by Julia M Nagle as Joe’s mum.
The expert singing-dancing ensemble, immaculately choreographed by Lee Proud, adds to the fluidity of the show, moving seamlessly from one end of the stage to the other, sometimes in group formation, sometimes breaking into period dance rhythm as in the high school hop.
Of the principals, Gary Tushaw as young Dr Joseph manages a tricky role with aplomb, first as Momma’s boy, then exhibiting a steely core, moving onward and upward with the refreshingly unsentimental Emily Bull as his wife.
Dylan Turner is believable as the doctor with the roving eye, likewise Katie Bernstein as the smart nurse, who seeing Joe cheated on by his wife sings the show’s hit number, The Gentleman is a Dope, a song she makes all her own. Some of Hammerstein’s lyrics are a touch earnest, but the show’s full gusto ensemble singing blows the cobwebs away.
The vivacious title song is up there with ‘Oklahoma!’, with Joe’s ‘You Are Never Far Away’ a close runner-up.
The euphonious offstage band of brass and wind revels in the spirited rhythms and harmonic twists that are instantly recognisable in a score by Richard Rodgers.
Hammerstein had always intended to revise Allegro, but in this production, the virtues of the piece outway any misgivings he might have entertained.