Allegro: The Musical That Couldn’t, Part 1.

Rodgers’s and Hammerstein’s musical of 1947, Allegro, has long been one of their most unconventional and problematic musicals.  For, in this musical, they turned the concept of “the girl next-door” on its head, creating the most unlikeable woman in their repertoire.   Indeed, Jennie Brinker, has few redeeming qualities other than looks and a seductive aura.  She is selfish, grasping and greedy, but manages to hide these character traits by being self-assured and poised.  Ultimately, she is unfaithful as well.   She even turns against her father, Ned, when he is no longer rich, although he has spoiled her all his life. Jennie remains an enigma among Oscar’s usually sympathetic women who invite our compassion.  Even Hammerstein himself thought of revising her personality, so that Joseph Taylor, Jr.  could become reconciled to her.  Needless to say,  it never happened.

In Allegro, there are no strong male characters.  Joseph Taylor, Jr. is  weak, influenced by the women that pass through his life:  his grandmother, mother, Jennie and nurse, Emily.  He has difficulty making decisions and seeing people for what they really are.  Like his father, a country doctor, he is too trusting in his dealings with unsavory personalities, and is taken in by Jennie’s charm and beauty.  His college friend, Charlie Townsend, is a hedonist who chases girls, but has no strong convictions.  Dr. Bigby Denby is a mere tool of businessman, Brook Lansdale.  Although Brook exudes a certain power on account of his wealth, his character is almost a caricature.  Except for Jennie Brinker, none of the characters in Allegro are well-developed and this is a major weakness of this disturbing musical.

Much has been said about the unusual use of a Greek chorus to comment on the feelings and actions of personalities.  However, Oscar was no Aeschylus, and Allegro is not a Greek tragedy.  Joseph Taylor, Jr. is, indeed, an average Joe, not a man of heroic qualities struggling with the fates.  Also, the chorus becomes tiresome and tedious, and tells us what Joe is thinking, what is going on in his mind, rather than let Joe show us through his actions.

The work has been criticized as a Morality Play with its characters dating from The Middle Ages.  The constant preaching led one critic to call Allegro “a sermon”.  Indeed, the simplistic contrast between the evils of the city(Chicago) and the inherent goodness of the rural life in the second act, leads one to think of the drama as a Morality Play, with the powers of good fighting the powers of darkness.  But was that what R and H wanted us to believe?  Or did they have another purpose that somehow got lost in the confusion of Act 2?

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

One Response to Allegro: The Musical That Couldn’t, Part 1.

  1. auntyuta says:

    Amazing that they produced such a controversial musical. Am looking forward what you have to say about act two.

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