Allegro at Southwark PlayhouseCultureTheatre
Opening for the first time on Broadway in 1947, Allegro is well-known for being the first failure for musical superstar duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, lasting onstage for a run of only nine months. Following the spectacular success of Oklahoma! and Carousel, Allegro was criticised for being less imaginative and more poorly paced than the pair’s previous hits. As a result, the musical is rarely chosen for subsequent revival productions. Sounds like director Thom Southerland and producer Danielle Tarento of this Southwark Playhouse production are suckers for a challenge. And lucky for us, they are.
The story itself is relatively humdrum, steeped in the values and expectations of 1940s America: a small town boy is born to a local doctor and his wife, and we follow his progression through life as he is torn between his family, who pressures him to become a poorly paid – but respectable – doctor and his wife, whom he is expected to support financially. Rather than twist the plot to appear more relatable to a modern audience, what this production does is celebrate the era of classic musical theatre in which the play was written in a way that is refreshingly uncomplicated and highly enjoyable to watch.
That being said, the interpretation is coloured with the splash of creativity that a contemporary audience would hope for, with minimal sets that transform the stage seamlessly from scene to scene and the use of an intimate traverse stage where the audience face each other. In this sense, the Southwark Playhouse’s quirky and distinctive space is the perfect setting, although for some of the larger ensemble pieces, viewers seated in the first row wouldn’t have been blamed for ducking on the odd occasion to avoid potential blows administered by the flailing limbs of the dancers. From a staging point of view, however, the small space allows the performers an overwhelming presence that only adds to their vocal and dramatic power. Standout performers in this altogether impressive cast are Gary Tushaw in the role of Joseph Taylor Jr who succeeds in emotionally engaging the audience throughout and Katie Bernstein as Emily West who produces a captivating rendition of The Gentleman is a Dope in Act II.
Lending a new lease of life to a classic that was potentially on the brink of being forgotten by UK audiences, Southwark Playhouse’s production of Allegro is a pleasure to watch and shouldn’t be missed before the end of its run in September.
Allegro is at Southwark Playhouse from 5th August until 10th September 2016. Book your tickets here.
Watch the Southwark Playhouse cast in rehearsal for Allegro here: