NY Theater Review – Sandi Durell
On a high after two head-spinning successes “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel,” Rodgers and Hammerstein thought more seriously about writing something that had to deal with the problems of everyman, the ordinary man, giving birth to “Allegro” that opened on Broadway in 1947 and closed nine months later. It is said to be their most personal work.
It’s the story of Joe Taylor, Jr. from baby to adulthood, as he becomes a doctor just like his father and grandfather, learning about the mysteries of medicine and death, dealing with love, social strata, obligations and, as conceived, the production is portrayed barebones on a large, almost empty, square stage containing a piano, a chair, a bench and some minor props, enhanced by creative lighting (Jane Cox) and period costume design by Ann Hould-Ward.
What is immediately and uniquely stunning is the multi-talents of this ensemble cast that features Malcolm Gets (Macbeth, Amour) as Joe Taylor Sr. and Claybourne Elder (Bonnie & Clyde) as Joe, Jr. who performs his growing feats – crawling to taking his first steps “One Foot, Other Foot” making his way to adulthood.
The cast is remarkable (reminiscent of the 2005 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd) playing multi-instruments, from strings to horns, singing, acting and portraying the Greek Chorus always in sync whispering to Joe Jr. when it comes to decision making.
The Taylors are gentle, helpful small town people as Joe Sr. cares for his patients hoping that, one day, his son will join him in his practice. But life is filled with unknowns, like the death of Grandma Taylor (a rich-voiced Alma Cuervo) – “Grandmother’s Death” – and eventually Joe’s Mom Marjorie Taylor (Jessica Tyler Wright). But it’s off to college for Joe, Jr. who already has an eye on Jenny Brinker (Elizabeth A. Davis) – “A Fellow Needs a Girl”(sung by Gets & Wright) – who is chagrined that she has to wait for Joe Jr. to finish college and then medical school, rather than go and work for her father Ned Brinker (Fred Romanoff) who has a thriving business, where he could start earning good money immediately.
Homesick Joe, Jr. writes to Jenny telling her about “ A Darn Nice Campus,” meets good-time Charlie Townsend (George Abud – who plays a mean cello) who also wants to go into medicine but likes the females and partying. He has an impact on Joe when he finds out Jenny is dating someone else back home fixing him up with Beulah (Megan Loomis) “So Far.”
The story unfolds and is expressed in the lyrics as the cast breaks into fragmented short songs throughout the evening.
Joe returns home to marry Jenny as his career is pushed in a direction he never would have envisioned as Jenny (“Money Isn’t Everything”) strives to move them into a higher social circle, revealing her need for the good life, as she manipulates Joe to walk out on his Dad’s practice to take a partnership in a fancy Chicago medical practice offered to him by his friend Charlie’s uncle Dr. Bigby Denby (Randy Redd, “Million Dollar Quartet”). As the money rolls in, Joe believes he can help his father start the small hospital of his dreams. But instead, he finds himself ministering to the wealthy hypochondriacs, attending cocktail parties marked by useless chatter (“Yatata, Yatata, Yatata”), while his nurse Emily (Jane Pfitsch, “Cabaret” 2014 revival), understanding his true nature, says it like it is – “The Gentleman is a Dope.”
Life is filled with disillusionment, as Joe finds out that Jenny is having an affair with the hospital trustee Brook Landsdale (Paul Lincoln). Time rushes by in a direction Joe never dreamed – “Allegro” – and he must make a decision.
The show speaks to the choices we make either knowingly or not, how we are influenced by others and sometimes lose our way. The issues are ever current. The lack of traditional theatrical staging highlights the subtlety of the music (direction and orchestrations Mary-Mitchell Campbell) and talents of the ensemble cast cleverly directed by John Doyle.
“Allegro” at Classic Stage Company, 90 minutes, 136 East 13th Street, NYC thru December 14th www.classicstage.org 212 352-3101
*Photos: Matthew Murphy