It is no surprise that Oscar Hammerstein asked the multi-awarding winning choreographer Agnes De Mille to direct ALLEGRO. This was the first time a woman had directed and choreographed a show on Broadway. She would be proud to hand over the baton to the incredibly talented choreographer Lee Proud. ALLEGRO is in many ways a dance piece. Proud`s choreography cascades from lindy hop, to Charleston to jitterbug creating vivid stage pictures and changes of mood and pace. In the original production a spoken Greek chorus reflected on the action, in Thom Sutherland`s sensitive but searing direction, an ensemble sing, dance and act with an amazing energy and versatility. The vocals under Dean Austin`s musical direction hit almost operatic heights.
After the triumphs of OKLAHOMA and CAROUSEL, Hammerstein persuaded his partner Richard Rodgers to try something different. Heavily influenced by Thornton Wilder`s masterpiece OUR TOWN, he wanted to do a serious musical about an ordinary man, Joseph Taylor Jnr from birth to early middle-age. We go on his journey through adolescent infatuations, marriage to what is ultimately the wrong woman, to serious moral dilemmas which affect us all. Anthony Lamble`s sets are the perfect back drop for this story.
The show was not a success when it opened on Broadway, although the advance ticket sales kept it going for over nine months. The public weren`t ready for something which was essential ahead of its time. Although Rodgers and Hammerstein had already broken new ground with their first two musicals. They wanted more of the same, and the duo followed ALLEGRO with another big hit SOUTH PACIFIC. So I am grateful to the team of producer Danielle Tarento and Thom Sutherland for bringing this gem to the London stage for the first time. It certainly contains some of Richard Rodgers` loveliest tunes. None more so than the first act sung melodiously by Leah West, who makes a welcome return in the second act as a hard-bitten insomniac society matron. The show stopper went to Katie Berstein`s stunning brunette of a nurse who brought the house down with her lament: THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE. Gary Tushaw is the most appealing hero you could wish to meet. His performance and the rigid direction never allow the piece to slide into sentimentality. Emily Bull makes the transition from love-struck girl to disillusioned wife totally believable. And Julia J Nagle`s vocal quality and warm stage presence is both moving and understated as the hero`s Mother.
The National Theatre with all its resources couldn`t have created a better production.
At Southwark Playhouse, London, until 10 September. Box office: 020-7407 0234.
Review by Stewart Permutt.