REVIEW: ALLEGRO (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★★

ALLEGRO 4 Gary Tushaw (Joseph Taylor Jr.) Emily Bull (Jennie Brinker) and company Photo Scott Rylander

Allegro has yet to be seen in London, essentially meaning it’s been a 69 year long wait from its original Broadway production. With the show following the success of Oklahoma! (1943), and Carousel (1945), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s third collaboration didn’t quite make the splash they had planned in New York, but this new production at the Southwark Playhouse is set to change that.

Produced by the hottest property in town, Danielle Tarento, whose track record proves she knows how to produce a hit show, Allegro follows Joseph Taylor Jr. from birth as he tackles love, friendship and betrayal while trying to become a respected and admired Doctor like his father. Joe Jr is played by the charismatic Gary Tushaw with a sincerity and detail that develops as the show reaches its shattering climax, and a voice that leads the show with security and power, especially in one of the show’s most well known songs, ‘You Are Never Away’.

Act I at times can feel a little slow, down to Hammerstein’s libretto, which takes its time to set the wheels in motion for Act II, but it’s worth it. In the second half, the show really comes alive as we are transported to a monochrome, Jazz Age New York City, with many members of the company becoming new characters.

The show, like many fringe productions, uses recent graduates throughout the ensemble and supporting roles, but this staging, unlike some, is mature and confident, with the company swapping roles, moving set and bringing clear and powerful vocals throughout the whole show with ease. Thoroughly enjoyable are Katie Bernstein’s wonderfully loveable nurse Emily, who steals Act II with the witty and gorgeously sung ‘The Gentleman Is A Dope’. Dylan Turner brings a highly addictive mischievous charm throughout the show and Leah West is equal parts sweet in Act I and highly strung in Act II, showing a versatility that stands above most in London at the moment.

The production packs the audience in either side of the stage, not leaving the largest of spaces, but Thom Southerland skillfully uses the simplistic set pieces to bring the production to life, with ladders and platforms gracefully easing through the show, highlighting the wonderful performances on display from the entire company. It must also be noted that his use of puppetry during the beginning of the production is highly enjoyable, avoiding the cliché cop-out it can so easily become.

The cast are crisp and clean under Lee Proud’s slick choreography, which is detailed and decisive, adding depth to ensemble pieces and packing a punch during the more frantic numbers, no more so than in the fast and furious New York City showstopper ‘Yatata, Yatata, Yatata’. Proud and Southerland have worked brilliantly together with set designer Anothony Lamble to create a world that fluidly jumps throughout time and location, matching the varied and whirlwind score.

Allegro is unapologetically Rodgers and Hammerstein. With sweeping melodic numbers, recognisable characters and a traditional structure the production could have felt stale and dated. But, this powerhouse production is fuelled by an energetic company whose charm and soaring vocals bring this piece of theatrical history to thrilling life in a captivating show that deserves to be seen, especially after nearly 70 years.

Reviewed by Oliver Williams
Photo: Scott Rylander

ALLEGRO plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 10 September 2016