Rodgers: Allegro

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rodgers
LABELS: Sony Masterworks Broadway
WORKS: Allegro
PERFORMER: Laura Benati, Norbert Leo Butz, Liz Callaway, Nathan Gunn, Judy Kuhn, Audra McDonald, Marni Nixon, Patrick Wilson, Judith Blazer, Maureen Brennan, Ashley Brown, Danny Burstein, Kathy Morath; Istropolis PO/Larry Blank
CATALOGUE NO: 41738-2

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‘I think I might not be attracted to experimental musicals if I hadn’t wet my feet with Allegro’, writes Stephen Sondheim in the booklet for this handsomely-produced milestone. But Sondheim, who was involved in its 1947 premiere, hasn’t always hit the bullseye in his own more ‘experimental’ musicals; and although Allegro was created after Carousel and just before South Pacific, it disappointingly turns out not to be a neglected masterpiece. 

The feelgood prodigal son tale unfurls as a birth to mid-life-crisis trajectory, requiring cinematic quick-changes and a Greek chorus who offers commentary very much in the style of the cheesiest 1940s advertising jingles. In Act I, the hero grows up, loses ma and grandma, and gets married; in the second Act, he decides the wicked world of Chicago society isn’t for him.

The devil clearly has the best tunes in a languishing nurse’s ‘The gentleman is a dope’ and a company number devoted to the ‘Allegro’ of the meaningless bustle of civic activity. Early on there are pretty melodies with weak words – none is as good as the old Rodgers-Hart number ‘Mountain Greenery’, music for a College Gym dance – and I don’t buy the torch song, ‘Come Home’, though it’s very affectingly sung here by Audra McDonald.

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In short, everyone does their best. Nathan Gunn as the protagonist’s doctor father follows the manly-baritone line of Gordon McRae and Howard Keel, Liz Callaway mooches sassily as the nurse and there are lines from Hammerstein himself (spliced in) and Sondheim. It’s a synthetic job, the orchestra recorded in Bratislava and the rest over the next few years, but it doesn’t sound it. The good old days of the Elektra-Nonesuch Gershwin musical recordings are back, even if you wonder if it was worth it in this instance. Pipe Dream next, please. David Nice