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A CurtainUp London Review
"If you get 10% on your money you can eat better. If you get 2% you can sleep better." — Dr Joseph Taylor Senior quoting JP Morgan
Cast in dance scene (Photo: Scott Rylander)
My heart sinks when I hear a play described as an "Everyman" but here we have a 1947 piece from Rodgers and Hammerstein, in between the hits State Fair and South Pacific, but which never took off. Stephen Sondheim worked on it as a production assistant when he was just 17 years old. The piece is flawed but in the expert directorial hands of Thom Southerland, Allegro is well worth seeing, especially for its vibrant second act.

The Allegro title seems to come from the idea that your life can speed up and out of control. Emily West (Katie Bernstein) who sings the best song of the show for me "The Gentleman is a Dope" sums it up when she says, "Thinking how hard it is to get off a merry-go-round after it gets going fast."

Writing about the play in January 1948 and quoted in the theatre programme, Oscar Hammerstein said this: "When an old problem is discussed, it is an easy thing to say, 'We've heard all that before.' But hearing it all before has done no good if one hasn't learned anything from what he has heard. If men are continuing to squander their time and usefulness for the wrong things, it would seem important to point this out to them. That is the simple reason why Allegro was written. If you don't like that reason, you won't like Allegro."

We start as Everyman plays do, with the birth in 1905 of Joseph Taylor Junior, (Gary Tushaw) in a small town where his father Dr Jospeh Taylor Senior (Steve Watts) is the local doctor and delivers all the local babies. "His hair is fuzzy, His eyes are blue, His eyes may change, They often do, He's eight pounds and a few ounces, He's Joseph Taylor Junior!" Growing up in parallel is Jennie Brinker (Emily Bull) ambitious daughter of an ambitious man. Babies and children are played by faceless puppets, like Amish dolls.

The townsfolk are choreographed for the catchy "One Foot, Other Foot" as Joe learns to walk. His grandmother sings "Winters Go By" to him and does it matter if she is a bit out of tune? Because soon she will not be there to care for him and we go to her funeral. As they say, it all goes so quickly as they grow up, and Joe and Jennie sit opposite each other at the top of step ladders as his parents sing "A Fellow Needs a Girl".

The Freshman Dance is excitingly choreographed as the de rigeur ballet in musicals of that era before Joe has to leave to go to college to study medicine much to Jennie's chagrin. Jennie finds a new man Bertram Woolhaven (Benjamin Purkiss) and at college Joe temporarily links to the beautiful Beulah (Leah West). "We have nothing to remember so far".

Joe's yellow jumper is the only note of colour in this monochromed costumed cast lest we forget who our central character is. At college he meets Charlie Townsend (Dylan Turner) who becomes a friend for life. Back home, Jennie and Bertram are no more and Jennie and Joe's mother Marjorie (Julia J Nagle) clash over Jennie's determination to have Joe marry her.

As I went out for the interval, certificates on the wall answered the question as to whether Joe would ever medically qualify under Jennie's spell. Act Two sees the young women singing "Money Isn't Everything" while hanging out the washing. But Jennie exerts her influence on Joe and he is lured to the city to look after demanding, spoilt and rich patients who compromise his professional integrity by demanding "pills" and threatening to cut funding of the hospital is he doesn't comply. The city is choreographed with umbrellas and verve.

The super jazzy, upbeat song "The Gentleman is a Dope" steals the show as Nurse West movingly sings, "She'll never understand him as well as I". At the society party, Lee Proud choreographs effectively the marching cast with cigarette holders and champagne glasses. A rich man Brook Lansdale (Samuel Thomas) hits on Jennie and the song "Allegro" has frenetic movement to Charleston rhythms.

Joe decides to move back to his father's town making a life changing decision to the reprise of "One Foot, Other Foot." Thom Southerland's productions are very special, economically staged but with real significance, with wonderful singing and creative dance, actor/singers who impress with acting in close up situations.

Allegro uses the first act to set up what comes to fruition in the second half and which is thoroughly enjoyable.
Musical Numbers
Act One

  • Joseph Taylor Jr.
  • I Know It Can Happen
  • One Foot, Other Foot
  • Winters Go By
  • Poor Joe
  • A Fellow Needs A Girl
  • Freshman Dance
  • A Darn Nice Campus
  • A Darn Nice Campus (reprise)
  • So Far
  • You Are Never Away
  • Poor Joe (reprise)
  • What A Lovely Day For a Wedding
  • It May Be A Good Idea For Joe
  • Act One Finale
Act Two

  • Money Isn't Everything
  • Poor Joe (reprise)
  • You are Never Away (reprise)
  • A Fellow Needs A Girl (reprise)
  • Yatata, Yatata, Yatata
  • The Gentleman Is A Dope
  • Two Short Years
  • Allegro
  • Come Home
  • Act II Finale

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Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Thom Southerland
Starring: Katie Bernstein, Emily Bull, Julia J Nagle, Dylan Turner, Gary Tushaw, Steve Watts, Leah Watts
With: David Delve, Cassandra McCowan, Matthew McDonald, Louise Olley, Benjamin Purkiss, Jacqueline Tate, Samuel Thomas, Susan Travers, Matthew Woodyatt
Orchestrator: Mark Cumberland
Choreographer: Lee Proud
Set Design: Anthony Lamble
Costume Design: Jonathan Lipman
Lighting Design: Derek Anderson
Sound Design: Andrew Johnson
Musical Director: Dean Austin
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking to 10th September 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th August 2016 performance at Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway, London SE1 (Tube: Elephant and Castle)
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