13th August 2016
This was Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first major misfire, even though it came off the back of smash hits such as Oklahoma and Carousel. A chequered Broadway run meant that the show never came to London; that is until now, sixty years on.
The show follows four decades in the life of Joseph Taylor Jr, from his birth in a small Midwestern town to his college life and eventual marriage. He is happy and contended in his father’s small-town medical practice until he gives in to his wife’s demands to move to the big city. He is forced to confront some tough questions around who he is, what he cares about, as well as how he feels about his wife.
The script is heartwarmingly pure and wholesome, although a touch too sweet and moralistic at times. The production feels stronger when it embraces the darker themes of the second half and really questions the reality of the American dream.
There is a charming Greek chorus that seems well ahead of its time and it is used to good effect in the ‘negotiation’ scene, where they provide visual cues to the characters to help them in their manipulation.
Any deficiencies in the script are remedied by a typically strong score from Rodgers and Hammerstein, peppered with some memorable and enjoyable numbers. A stellar cast makes good work of the luscious harmonies, backed by a stirring band.
There are two excellent performances in the lead roles; Gary Tushaw charts Joseph’s journey from childhood innocence to midlife crisis brilliantly, whilst Emily Bull is scheming and ambitious as his wife Jennie. Both have powerful singing voices and are capable of expressing real emotional depth.
Amongst the supporting cast, Dylan Turner was impressive as Joseph’s foppish friend Charlie, as was Katie Bernstein, who gave a tender performance as the kind-hearted assistant Emily. It is a strong ensemble, featuring a few professional debuts, who all acquitted themselves well.
The traverse stage meant that space was often seriously tight, which makes Lee Proud’s superb choreography all the more impressive. Due to the limited space, the production often relies on ladders (a bit like In the Heights) which meant a lot of climbing, something that got a bit wearying in the first half.
Also worthy of acclaim is the sound design from Andrew Johnson. The music and vocals were perfectly in sync and aided by some precise diction from the cast, meaning the clever lyrics could be heard loud and clear.
Thom Sutherland’s production of Allegro is a definite success, putting a positive gloss on a perhaps unfairly maligned play. It is intelligently directed, perfectly sung and well acted – an entertaining slice of Americana in SE1 .