Very much worth the trip to vibrant Astoria to see a work by two musical theater legends.



NY Theater Review By Joel Benjamin


The Astoria Performing Arts Center’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro (one of this legendary team’s rare commercial failures) doesn’t quite make a case for its elevation to classic status. Nevertheless it is a thoroughly professional, eager-beaver staging that exposes its strengths and weaknesses.

There are reasons Allegro failed in 1947, a great disappointment for the two masters who were basking in the success of Oklahoma! and Carousel. They felt they were charting new territory by using a Greek chorus to comment on the life of an all-American boy. Even for its period, the characters and storyline were full of worn-out clichés, the two biggest of which were that life in a small town is better than life in the evil big city and that material success is always an empty, soul-stripping goal.

Joseph Taylor, Jr. (Mark Banik), the son and namesake of a small-town physician (Andy Lebon, who effectively breaths life into the old chestnut, a small town doctor) eventually becomes a doctor, too. He marries his hometown girl-next door, Jenny (Crystal Kellogg, lovely, with a crystalline voice). Eventually, at Jenny’s insistence, they leave his small-town heaven to form a lucrative partnership with his colorful college roommate, and fellow doctor, Charles (Joshua Stenseth). All the while, in the background, Emily (Manna Nichols), a college infatuation, is suffering unrequited love for Joe. Eventually Joe realizes that Jenny is not only money-hungry, but an adulterer.

With the images of his dead Grandma (a sweet Jean Liuzzi) and Marjorie, Joe’s mom (Daniella Dalli, a luminous presence) guiding him, he leaves Chicago—and Jenny—and returns to the comfort of his small town, joining his dad in the tiny hospital he has built.

Only two of the songs had life outside the show, both ironically sung by the only well-rounded character in the show, Emily. “So Far” is a sweet love song that anticipates all the lovely memories that Emily and Joe will have. Emily’s “The Gentleman Is a Dope,” the show’s most sophisticated song, almost matches the witty output of the Rodgers and Hart collaboration.

The other songs are all well-crafted but obvious tugs on the heartstrings, such as Grandma’s “I Know It Can Happen Again” a sweet contemplation of her grandson’s future; “One Foot, Other Foot” about Joe, Jr.’s first steps; “A Fellow Needs a Girl,” about domestic bliss, sung by Dr. Taylor, Sr. and his wife Marjorie; “A Darn Nice Campus,” Joe’s wide-eyed impression of his first taste of the outside world; and “Yatata, Yatata, Yatata” a gossipy ditty sung by the self-centered, sophisticated people of Chicago.

The cast, under the direction of outgoing APAC artistic director Tom Wojtunik, gave full-bodied performances, although some of the—refreshingly—un-miced singing could have been more robust. Christine O’Grady’s choreography was simple and balletic, moving the cast around efficiently. The set by Stephen K. Dobay was quite extravagant for a small off-Broadway company as were the costumes by Summer Lee Jack. Julianne B. Merrill led the richly orchestrated seven-piece band with deep understanding of the score and the needs of the performers.

All the cast members were on the same wave-length. Ms. Nichols was terrific as Emily. Mr. Banik, boyishly handsome, with a lovely light baritone voice, gave dimension to the all-American caricature of Joe, Jr. Joshua Stenseth was effective in his transformation from rake to saint.

There is a great deal to savor in this generously appointed production.

*Photo: Paul Fox

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro (through May 17, 2014)

Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC)

Good Shepherd Methodist Church

30-44 Crescent St. at 30th Rd.

Astoria, NY

Tickets and Information: 888-596-1027 or www.apacny.org

Running Time: 2 ½ hours