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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Doyle has a knack for inventively trimming shows to their essence. This was most inventively illustrated in his version of Kander and Ebb's The Visit at last summer's Williamstown Theatre Festival (That revival is circling Broadway looking for a landing spot). Mr. Doyle's second production for the Classic Stage's Musical Theatre Initiative (the first was Passion ) is double Doylized. Tweak #1 chops about an hour from Oscsr Hammerstein's book for this Allegro's ensemble to work a reprise of the delightful "One Foot, Other Foot" into the "Come Home" finale. Tweak #2, employs his famous most famous technique of having the actors double as instrumentalists.
Though Passion will never hit the tippy-top of Stephen Sondheim's musicals, Doyle's production did full justice to its considerable assets. His trimming of Allegro is definitely a good thing. The lack of scenery and the instrument playing ensemble actually is a good fit for Rodgers and Hammerstein's concept of using a Greek chorus to express the main character's inner thoughts and relying on the material to carry the day without any scenic bells and whistles.
Unfortunately, Allegro's book is hopelessly dated, preachy and lacking in a dynamic main character. That character, whose life we follow from birth to middle age, is Joseph Taylor, Jr (Claybourne Elder). He's, destined to follow in the footsteps of his father Joseph Taylor, Sr. (Malcolm Gets), a dedicated small town doctor. Joe s marriage to Jenny (Elizabeth Davis) his manipulative and materialistic childhood sweetheart puts the kibash on that. Despite the forewarnings by the singing chorus he ends up working in a big city hospital and doing mostly feel-good doctoring. Unsurprisingly, he eventually musters enough get-up-and-go to leave the excessively fast pace (as musically expressed in the title song) to go home to the meaningful life he was meant to lead.
Doyle is blessed with a talented and versatile cast of a dozen (far fewer than in the Broadway production) who gamely play their instruments — Joe's good-time college chum Charlie (George Abud) at one point actually strums on his cello while lying on his back. Malcolm Gets is the best musician in the group. But, while his piano playing is just fine, his Joseph Taylor Sr. lacks the fierce, eloquence the role calls for. Unfortunately, the part Claybourne Elder has to play is also something of a cipher. In fact, all these capable performers — even the lovely singer Alma Cuervo as Joe's grandmother and the very fine Jessica Tyler Wright as his mother — can do just so much with basically one-dimensional characters.
Does all this sound like a yawn? Well, so much of it is. But it's not really the fault of the director or the cast. The actor-instrument business isn't as revelatory as it was in Sweeney Todd and Company. However, though double-duty style is distracting and confusing at first, it does eventually kick in. The real culprit here is the material. Hammerstein had a golden touch with lyrics that were of a piece with libretto , but this simply isn't his best work and even the adventurous Mr. Doyle can't lift it into the pantheon of Rodgers and Hammerstein's timeless shows.
On a positive note, Allegro has a catchy score and most of the best songs have been retained. Jane Peitsch as Emily, Joe's empathetic assistant in his big city job, does well by "The Gentleman is a Dope." Even the less memorable numbers are given a lovely tinkly sound by this multi-facted "orchestra." I've included a list of the songs at the end of the production notes since no song list is included in the program-— probably to support the feeling that this is sung-through even though there's plenty of dialogue.
Anyone interested in musical theater history, understanding its flops as well as its hits, will not want to miss this addition to the Classic Stage's worthy musical theater initiative. I actually found myself humming that "One Foot, Other Foot" and "The Gentleman Is a Dope" on the way home. I think I'll also recommend it to my GP who's still one of those old-fashioned solo practitioners who really looks at his patients and not his watch.