Streamlined ‘Allegro’ is a success

It is a flawed but daring curiosity.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s experimental musical “Allegro,” created on the heels of the duo’s historic success with “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel,” is a flawed but daring curiosity celebrating small-town virtues and containing plenty of wonderful songs.

With an omnipresent Greek chorus leading much of the storytelling, “Allegro” explores the upbringing and mindset of Joseph Taylor, Jr., a mild-mannered Midwestern male who is expected to become a country doctor, just like his father, but is tempted to leave behind his community and accept a high-paying job in the big city.

Stephen Sondheim, who worked as an assistant on the original 1947 production, has jokingly said that he’s spent his entire life trying to fix the show’s problematic second act. In any event, one could easily argue that “Allegro” led the way to Sondheim’s concept-based musicals.

Now the question becomes whether the English director John Doyle has fixed, or at least improved, “Allegro” with his stripped-down, cut-down, revival at Off-Broadway’s Classic Stage Company. So far as I’m concerned, the show is surprisingly effective in this ultra-focused form, and in such as intimate space.

Doyle has cut the show into a single 90-minute act, which makes it far more seamless and coherent. And in what has become a trademark of Doyle productions, the actors play the instruments themselves.
But unlike prior times when his actor-musician concept was just bizarre, it’s very appropriate for “Allegro,” which has a simple and direct storytelling template. Having the cast always onstage and singing directly to the audience highlights how “Allegro” is really an old-fashioned morality play.

Claybourne Elder is appropriately clean-cut and relatable as the everyman-like Joseph. Elizabeth A. Davis, a Tony nominee for “Once,” brings an unexpected level of depth as Joseph’s aspiring wife Jenny, who could have been portrayed as merely self-centered. The excellent Malcolm Gets adds an avuncular presence as Joseph’s supportive father.

If you go: “Allegro” plays at Classic Stage Company through Dec. 14. 136 E. 13th St., classicstage.org.

Matt Windman