“We muffle all the undertones,
The minor blood-and-thunder tones;
The overtones are all we care to play”
Even Rodgers and Hammerstein can have a duff moment. Allegro is a rarity amongst their catalogue in that its 1947 debut was not the equal of the shows that they wrote before and after – you may have heard of them, Carousel and South Pacific… – and so has languished pretty much in obscurity ever since. But in these content-hungry, revisionist times, nothing lays untouched for too long and it is the expert hand of Thom Southerland who has brought us Allegro’s European premiere to the Southwark Playhouse.
I reviewed the 2009 first complete recording of the show in the summer and was surprised at how musically strong it was (helped of course by a stellar cast) so was intrigued to see how the book played out alongside it. And for me, it is not too hard to see why this is a show that has collected dust rather than accolades on the shelf. Telling the life and times of an ordinary American Joe, called Joe, from birth to childhood (told by puppets, eeesh!) through to mid-life crisis but so ordinary is Joe, so everyday the details of his life, that it is hard to get too excited by it.
Fortunately, with Southerland at the helm, Allegro receives a very strong production that goes some way to making up for this. With frequent collaborator Lee Proud on choreographical duties, the power of the ensemble is perfectly capitalised on and much needed energy brought to the table where the narrative fails to do so. Gary Tushaw is good as Joe, very good in fact, you just want the character to be more interesting. And the more interesting characters (the women, natch) are ill-served by the material – Emily Bull as his ambitious wife and Julia J Nagle as his mother are brilliant duelling forces in Joe’s life but get too little to do and nothing on their own terms. So an interesting piece that I’m glad we’ve gotten to see, but not an essential one.