Review: Allegro

Allegro

I really loved this revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein rarity Allegro. It’s not an unarguable classic like their South Pacific, or as rock-ribbed in structure as their Oklahoma! or Carousel. It’s weirder, and in some ways more ambitious, than any of those – already enough to gain it a place in my heart. On top of that, director John Doyle’s stripped-bare production reveals its considerable virtues, and, for me anyway, secures its place in the R&H canon.

Allegro’s head is in the future, while its heart is securely in the past. The only other musical theatre composer of the 1940s that was in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s league was Kurt Weill (one could even argue that he was doing better work than them, but that’s an argument for another time). Allegro can definitely be seen as their attempt to out-Weill Weill, all presentational style and big ideas.

The story of Allegro follows the story of one Joe Taylor, Jr. (the seriously handsome Claybourne Elder) from cradle to early manhood in the early years of the 20th Century. His story is even more conservative than Oklahoma! and Carousel – which were the two big R&H hits immediately preceding Allegro – detailing the inexorable pull of small-town virtues over the fast-paced “allegro” of the big city.

One of the most successful American plays of all time, Our Town, utilized much the same combination of presentational aesthetics and small-town subject matter. Indeed, Rodgers and Hammerstein may have had Our Town in mind when writing Allegro. However, there’s an element of unsentimental objectivity about small-town America that is absent in the more sentimental Allegro.

For these reasons and more, Doyle’s minimalist take on Allegro hits all the right notes. His gimmick of having actors play musical instruments has been seen before, in productions where it was both effective (Sweeney Todd) and ineffective (Company). It is more effective here than ever before, as the cast plays such homey instruments as guitars, fiddles, mandolins, banjos and upright pianos. This turns Allegro‘s conservatism into a virtue, fully owning the sentimentality and turning the folksiness all the way up. What may have once seemed like merely an intellectual exercise now actively pulls on the heartstrings. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Sue Raney

It’s entirely fitting that one of singer Sue Raney’s recent albums was a tribute to Doris Day. Like Day, Raney is a blonde creature of sunlight. She may be a more sophisticated stylist today than she was in her 1960s heydey, but her main attraction is still the warm golden glow of her phrasing and tone.

Time has added jazziness and a gentle melancholy, but the result is more romantically autumnal than truly dark. Raney’s interpretation of Day’s career-making hit “Sentimental Journey” speaks volumes about both singers. Raney’s reading is jazzier and tells more of a story, but still celebrates sentiment and travel in the same way Day’s original did.

For her first New York nightclub engagement in 25 years, Raney is accompanied by her longtime colleague Alan Broadbent on piano, whose approach is kissed by that same sunset warmth. Broadbent and Raney both interpret from a personal, emotional place, erasing the distance some jazz performers place between themselves and the material. Their approach to songs is never merely polite.

Her take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It Might As Well Be Spring” would no doubt have pleased the composers immensely, since she nails both the song’s essential optimism and the wry wink that goes with it. She doesn’t commit the cabaret sin of singing too many ballads, but, it must be said, she never really lets loose or swings either.

Indeed, sometimes she and Broadbent are almost too warmly emotional, giving songs an almost easy listening sheen. No danger of that, however, in Raney’s slowed-down interpretation of “Que Sera Sera”, which really pays attention to the lyrics and their cautious, almost rueful edge. Raney is always a very expressive singer, never descending into the quietly reverent. Overall, a lovely, soothing show.

For tickets, click here.