LABELS: Sony Masterworks Broadway
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
‘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.
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