Photo credit: Scott Rylander
Fringe favourite Southwark Playhouse has been hit (Grand Hotel) or miss (Grey Gardens) for me lately, but since I have seen some of the most wonderful shows at this venue I'm always keen to check them out when they put on another musical I've yet to see on stage. They're great at bringing smaller or unknown productions to London audiences and Allegro, one of Rodgers & Hammerstein's lesser known works, is one of those. Despite being created in 1947, the Southwark Playhouse production marks the musical's professional European premiere.
Allegro tells the story of Joseph Taylor Jr from birth to middle age, with all the ups and downs of life that hit him along the way. He doesn't live a terribly exciting existence, however, with the biggest struggle coming when he has to make the choice between following in his father's footsteps to become a small-town doctor and making his mother happy, or moving to the city where there are much better prospects and make his ambitious new wife happy. It's the age old dilemma between passion and money, but with a musical twist.
Directed by Thom Southerland (Titanic, Grand Hotel, and now artistic director of Charing Cross Theatre) I had high hopes for this production. Some of the most enjoyable theatrical outings I've had in recent years were directed by his hand and so when I saw his name attached to this show I was instantly sold. Unfortunately this one was more of a 'miss' for me, mostly due to the source material than anything else.
This is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's lesser known and performed works and it's clear to see why. The story is mediocre and while the music is good, wonderful even at times, no musical can be a success based on the score alone. There is no connection with the characters and nothing that elevates this from a mere story to one that deserves telling. There was also an obvious disconnect from the time period the show was supposedly set in, so watching Joseph's life unfold in isolation added to this feeling of disengagement.
Furthermore, the space at Southwark Playhouse is a small one, and while this has always been the case it never felt quite so confined as this time around. The stage was tiny and the choice to work with different levels through movable scaffolding was an odd one and it didn't work in the context of the show. And when the entire cast was dancing together on the small stage it looked clunky each time they bumped into one another.
The first half's saving grace was utterly delightful ensemble piece One Foot, Other Foot. This rare moment of choreographed joy added a splash of fun into an otherwise rather dull musical. The second act felt almost like a separate entity from the first, with less focus on set changes and more on expertly performed dance numbers that really added a boost of joie de vivre into this show, which it very much benefited from. Title song Allegro was the undoubted star of the evening and rightfully so.
The performances too were good, especially Emily Bull as Joseph's girlfriend and wife Jennie Brinker and Dylan Turner as best friend Charlie Townsend. The rest of the cast and creatives also try their best with the limited book but sometimes there is a reason a musical doesn't go mainstream globally, even if it's created by two of the all-time greats. It took nearly 70 years for Allegro to receive its professional European premiere, which should've been a give away. Even with its much more entertaining second half, ultimately this musical is more lento than allegro.
Allegro is playing at Southwark Playhouse and taking bookings until 10 September 2016. Book your tickets here.