Venue and town: Southwark Playhouse, London
Producer: Danielle Tarento/Southwark Playhouse
Director: Thom Southerland
Music: Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein
Cast includes: Katie Bernstein, Emily Bull, David Delve, Cassandra McCowan, Matthew McDonald, Julia J Nagle, Louise Olley, Benjamin Purkiss, Jacqueline Tate, Samuel Thomas, Susan Travers, Dylan Turner, Gary Tushaw, Steve Watts, Leah West, Matthew Woodyatt
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, including interval
Dates of run: Aug 5-Sept 10
The Italian word for cheerful, allegro in music implies a happy kind of brisk walking pace.
As the title of that rare thing – a virtually unknown Rodgers and Hammerstein musical – it is both apt and poignant given that maintaining an allegro mood throughout life is next to impossible.
Perhaps it’s the melancholy undertone and high moral criticism of superficial social success that deterred directors in the past.
But those characteristics fit it to our times and 70 years after Allegro was written, the themes of a work only now achieving its professional European premiere feel freshly minted.
Now as then, there is political and economic uncertainty and social inequality. Now as then the things most of us need to be happy and fulfilled are a good relationship with a partner who shares our values and a worthwhile job.
Allegro’s ordinary Joe – Joseph Taylor Jr, played by Gary Tushaw – finds the path that should be as simple as taking his first steps only gets harder as life goes on.
The source of joy and pain is Jennie Brinker (Emily Bull) who dangerously prizes money and status far more than Taylor’s vocation to be a small-town doctor.
In a clash that has echoes down the ages, Taylor’s mother, a pure-voiced Julia J. Nagle, foresees it all and declares war on her daughter-in-law.
Director Thom Southerland ratchets up the suspense over who will win and Tushaw’s almost meek Joseph Taylor, caught between forces more powerful than himself, absolutely wins our sympathy.
Tellingly, one of the best songs – “The Gentleman is a Dope” – goes not to one of the official leads but to the dependable Emily West, feelingly performed by Katie Bernstein.
The production’s strength is in its simplicity and, for all the strong solos, in a powerful ensemble, musically satisfying and wittily choreographed.
Set designer Anthony Lamble’s ladders and planks could have been cumbersome, but somehow are perfectly fitting as light-hearted lovers scale them and a wife, desperate for glamour, resentfully hangs her washing over them.
Equally successful, is the chorus’s advice by flash cards to the couple as they weigh their life decisions.
It all makes for a refreshing change from Oklahoma and the Sound of Music.
Barbara Lewis © 2016.