Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro is a deeply flawed show. The songs aren’t particularly great, especially considering that they came from the same writers who gave us Some Enchanted Evening, If I Loved You, and the whole damn Sound of Music. The story, which follows Joseph Taylor Jr.’s (Claybourne Elder) development from infancy to angst-ridden big-city doctor, isn’t particularly interesting. The dialogue is stilted; the characters are one-dimensional. And yet, by some miracle, Classic Stage Company has managed to stage a revival that turns this not-quite-right script into a piece of theater that’s visceral, emotional, and surprisingly moving.
This production’s success can be attributed almost entirely to director John Doyle. In Mr. Doyle’s hands, the oddities inherent in the show—the Greek choral elements, the awkwardly written lines, the bizarre narrative scope—become intriguingly alienating. Characters that otherwise would seems flat and listless become deeply symbolic, larger-than-life archetypes that are everyone and no one. Instead of feeling poorly constructed, Mr. Doyle’s Allegro feels excitingly avant-garde. It’s a deeply innovated, deeply theatrical interpretation—which is not something one often associates with classic musicals of the 1940s.
Mr. Doyle is perhaps best known for eliminating the pit orchestra in his musicals and instead putting the instruments in the hands of the actors. He does so in Allegro—the ensemble cast is made entirely of multi-instrumentalists. Actors strum guitars, play trumpets, switching from violin to banjo and back again. This blurring of the distinction between cast and orchestra adds to the almost Brechtian atmosphere of the production, to be sure, but it’s also a joy to just watch the cast and be amazed. They turn out evocative performances, all the while singing beautifully and playing virtuosically. These actors are, pure and simple, really fucking talented.
In the show’s title number, they circle the stage, faces lit by a medicated, manic energy, music pulsing but somehow ajar. I felt uncomfortable and engaged, provoked and introspective. It’s moments like this, the synchronicity of skill and vision, that allows Allegro to be such an affecting experience.