Theater archives

All Sped Up: Classic Stage enlivens Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Allegro


Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Allegro is the rare musical cut from whole cloth rather than derived from an existing play or story. Its closest theatrical relative might be Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (1938), which shares its austerity of means and moral fiber. Though Allegro deployed a cast and orchestra that topped 100 members at its 1947 Broadway premiere, Classic Stage’s current revival, directed by John Doyle, manages nicely with 12 terrific actor-singers who play multiple musical instruments.

The couple at the center of the plot read their letters aloud to one another — call it an epistolary musical — and during many exchanges, romantically entwined characters stand several feet apart, making it feel as if you’re watching a radio play. The liveliest interactions involve Claybourne Elder as Joseph Taylor Jr. — a shy, hapless kid groomed from birth to take over his father’s rural medical practice — and George Abud as Charlie, his happy-go-lucky medical-school chum who morphs into a radical labor organizer. Sensible Jane Pfitsch nails the show’s most enduring number, “The Gentleman Is a Dope.” Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes plant us securely in Depression-era Middle America, and Dan Moses Schreier’s sound design underscores the musical’s sentimental heart. Trimmed to an intermission-less 90 minutes and kept lively with a handful of catchy songs, Allegro sags a bit in the middle nonetheless, lapsing into a diatribe against soulless urban life and “benzedrine romances.”