In today’s Wall Street Journal I review Classic Stage Company’s revival of Allegro. Here’s an excerpt.
* * *
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote nine Broadway musicals together, six of which were hits that continue to be produced around the world. The other three were flops, and two of them, “Me and Juliet” and “Pipe Dream,” have vanished from the stage, leaving behind only their original-cast albums. “Allegro” is different. While everybody agrees that it doesn’t work, there’s been no shortage of attempts to fix “Allegro,” none of which has been any more successful than the original 1947 production, which closed after 315 performances—a major disaster by the money-coining standards of “Oklahoma!” and “South Pacific.”
Now Classic Stage Company has decided to take a shot at “Allegro,” and John Doyle, who brought “Sweeney Todd” back to Broadway in 2005 to triumphant effect and staged the CSC’s eloquent small-scale 2013 off-Broadway revival of “Passion,” has been invited to see what he can do to make it work. The answer, alas, is nothing: Mr. Doyle’s production is as unsuccessful as every previous attempt to breathe life into “Allegro.”
Why, then, does anyone ever try to revive so palpably flawed a show? Because “Allegro” looks so good—on paper. It is, in fact, the first “experimental” musical, a show in which Hammerstein threw out the how-to-succeed-on-Broadway rulebook that he and Rodgers had written and tried to come up with something different, using a quasi-Greek chorus that sings to help tell the story of Joe (Claybourne Elder), an Everyman-like small-town doctor who moves to the big, bad city to seek his fortune and comes close to losing his soul along the way….
The main reason for its inability to hold an audience is that the score is pleasant enough but almost entirely unmemorable. Only one song, “The Gentleman Is a Dope,” became a standard, and deservedly so. It’s an angry lament whose sharp-edged lyrics might almost have been written by Lorenz Hart, Rodgers’ previous collaborator: “The gentleman’s eyes are blue,/But little do they see—/Why am I beating my brains out?/He doesn’t belong to me!” The other numbers don’t begin to approach its excellence….
Scarcely less troublesome, though, is Hammerstein’s book, which is both sentimental to a fault (“Gosh! Is everybody in this town going to have their babies today?”) and so relentlessly linear as to be devoid of surprise…
* * *
Read the whole thing here.
Nellie McKay sings “The Gentleman Is a Dope”: