Friday, 02 September 2016

Song of an Ordinary Joe

This Rodgers and Hammerstein tale about a conflicted young medic has taken a long time to cross the pond

Written by Richard Barber
Richard-Barber-colour-176Although first seen on Broadway in 1947 where it ran for over 300 performances, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro is now getting its professional UK premiere. It’s tempting to say that you can understand why it’s taken so long to cross the pond. Tempting but not entirely fair.

After the groundbreaking success of Oklahoma! and Carousel, this is a story painted on a much smaller canvas. We’re somewhere in Midwest America where a decent young man, Joseph Taylor Jr, is set on following his father into medicine while his girlfriend, Jennie, has her eye on bigger things for him in Chicago. The tension turns on whether our hero will put prizes above principles.

Director Thom Southerland, as he demonstrated recently with his production of Titanic, is a master of extracting maximum value from a large cast in a tiny performing area. But with the clever use of a couple of stepladders and a portable tower, the action moves at a lick. Even so, the first half is borderline dull since Joe, his family and immediate circle seem to exist in a bubble, hermetically sealed from what is happening in the rest of America before, during and after The Great War.

And, to be frank, Joe is a bit of a drip, while pretty Jennie is something of a shrew. So you don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to work out that their romance and subsequent marriage is not going to end happily. But it does make the second half of the evening altogether more pacey and gritty. And both characters are well-played throughout by Gary Tushaw and Emily Bull.

I also liked Joe’s decent parents, Marjorie and Joseph, brought to believable life – and in fine voice – by Julia J Nagle and Steven Watts. There’s a nice turn, too, by Dylan Turner as an ageing Lothario forever encouraging young Joe to let his hair down. But it’s Katie Bernstein as Joe Jr’s principled nurse Emily who all but steals the show, particularly in her big solo number, The Gentleman Is A Dope.

A pleasant evening, then, about an ordinary Joe, an early 20th-century Everyman. But a slightly strange choice for two collaborators whose earlier works all but rewrote musical theatre. And then they went on to write The Sound Of Music. So less Allegro – brisk and lively; more diminuendo – increasingly lacking sustained oomph.

Until 10 September at Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway, London SE1: 020-7407 0234, www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk 


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