Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed and Designed by John Doyle
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Most of us (at least the Everyman in most of us) get through life by continuing to put one foot in front of the other day in and day out despite life’s often unseemly vicissitudes. This works until we encounter some “road block” and often that road block can be the fast-paced life, one of those “roads not taken” that leads us to the dizzying heights of success. Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1947 “Allegro,” currently running at the Classic Stage Company, is a fitting metaphor for this “brisk tempo” trip from birth to death and all that transpires in between.
“Allegro” is the endearing and sometimes challenging rehearsal of the life of Everyman Joseph Taylor, Jr. (Claybourne Elder), son of small town physician Joseph, Sr. (Malcolm Gets) and his dutiful wife Marjorie (Jessica Tyler Wright). Mr. Elder is convincing in the role of the younger Taylor whose desire to follow in his father’s footsteps (“One foot, other foot”) is challenged by the demands of his relationship with Jenny Brinker (Elizabeth A. Davis) and the demands of success as a “big city” physician and eventually mollified by his ability to escape the samsara of his existence and spin off toward his own nirvana.
Joseph, Jr. and his friends and family “Greek chorus” spin his tale as they move around John Doyle’s sparse set guided firmly but generously by Mr. Doyle’s inspired and inventive direction. John Doyle’s reimagining of the Rogers and Hammerstein 1947 Broadway production of “Allegro” (Agnes de Mille’s “overstuffed” design) is not only sparse by comparison but successfully manages to expose the heart and soul of the musical and proves its intrinsic merit and sustainability. John Doyle’s “signature” convention of having the cast double as orchestra works well in this reimagining of “Allegro.” Here, this convention counterpoints well with the action of the chorus as it surrounds the protagonist with a “friends and family” commentary on his journey.
Joseph Junior’s attempts to “puzzle out for himself” his life’s purpose and direction serves as a scintillating metaphor not only for Oscar Hammerstein’s life and his dealing with the temptations inherent in success but a metaphor for Everyman’s struggle with a world that insists on telling him or her “what to think, what to do, and where to go” rather than equipping them to discover their “home in the heart.”
Notable performances among the universally fine ensemble cast are: Malcolm Gets’s impassioned portrayal of Joseph Taylor, Sr. who wants nothing more than to have his son “come home;” Jessica Tyler Wright’s nurturing yet cautious Marjorie Taylor who cradles her son in unconditional love; Elizabeth A. Davis’s crafted interpretation of Jenny Brikner’s fine line walk between supportiveness and selfishness; George Abud’s cello-toting performance as Charlie Townsend; and Alma Cuervo’s performance as the grandmother who always believes her grandson Joseph, Jr. will, despite her initial misgivings, grow up “to be a man.” Each ensemble member plays a variety of instruments; some like Ms. Wright have remarkable voices. Her “My Fellow Needs A Girl” and “Come Home” display her remarkable vocal range and her gift of interpretation.
Humanity’s soulful heartbeat is sustained throughout the ninety minute performance. Enlightenment comes to Joseph, Jr. in his recurrent visits to the upstage wall (a great metaphor!) and his Everyman’s victory in getting back to “where there’s work to do” and “where there’s love for [him]” becomes the victory of those in the audience whose brains are sometimes “cleared by the sudden light on one word.” This is a fresh and poignant reimagining of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Allegro” At their curtain call, the ensemble makes it quite clear:
NOW YOU CAN DO/WHATEVER YOU WANT/WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DO!/ONE FOOT OUT/AND THE OTHER FOOT OUT,/ONE FOOT OUT/AND THE OTHER FOOT OUT/ONE FOOT OUT/AND THE OTHER FOOT OUT/AND THE WORLD BELONGS TO YOU!