Allegro: The Musical That Couldn’t, Part 3.

Act 2 begins with the sinister time motif, employed in Act 1.  The Depression soon follows.  Ned Brinker becomes a pauper and must rely on his son-in-law for support.  Jennie no longer has the wealth she has grown accustomed to.  She laments this fact with her girlfriends in the sardonic, “Money Isn’t Everything.”  The piece is one of Rodgers’s famous waltzes that culminates in a descriptive dance.

Joe is offered a position in a Chicago hospital by Dr. Digby Denby, Charlie Townsend’s uncle, who also works there.  This is the moment Jennie has been waiting for and she opposes Joe’s plan to be an assistant to his father.  She lures him to her side by explaining how the money could help his father and provide the means for supporting their future child.  So, off to Chicago they go!  Marjorie appears to give her husband comfort:  “You’re hurt.  Don’t let him hurt you.”  She also sings from “A Fellow Needs a Girl.”  This will conclude the rural portion of the play.

Joe learns that Dr. Denby’s hospital is a sanctuary for millionaire Brook Lansdale’s hypochondriacal friends.  Now, the onrush of time becomes specific to city living, and the musical changes its focus.  In “Yatata”,  “The days come fast and are quickly gone, but the talk, talk, talk, goes on and on…”  The eerie time motif occurs, but now it is relegated to the wasteful time of city life.

In Chicago,  Joe appears to lose sight of what he values:  simplicity, trust, loyalty, service and Oscar loses sight of what the musical is about.  His extreme sentimentality for country life, his preachiness, and his corresponding disdain for the speeded up life of the city begin to make themselves felt.  The generalized time of Act 1 becomes time specific in Act 2.  “Allegro”  refers to the mad, chaotic rush of city life:  “Same tempo morning and night !  Allegro!… We spin and we spin,… playing a game no one can win,…”  But generalized time flow characterizes all of Act 1, so Allegro does not seem an appropriate title for this musical.  If Allegro refers to the furious rush of time in all of our lives as race past one another, the title makes sense, but, if not, confusion ensues.

Prior to “Allegro”, we get our one and only character song, “The Gentleman is a Dope.”  Sung by Emily the nurse, it takes a look at her reluctance to admit her growing affection and love for Joe:  “Look at me crying my eyes out as if he belonged to me…  He’ll never belong to me!  The gentleman is a dope…”  In this moving song, we feel an emotional bond to Joe as more than a set-up character, but as a man with real limitations and warmth.  It is one of the few songs sung alone; without benefit of chorus or other people.  It is significant that this is the only song from the musical that continues to be sung.  Strangely, this song is so different from the others, it almost seems out of place.  The song reminds us how different Allegro truly is from all the rest of R and H musicals;  they thrive on often gripping character songs such as “Soliloquy”, “Lonely Room” and so many others.  Is the chorus a valid substitute for the traditional character song in delineating a person in a musical?  This is a question for the audience to decide.

Joe learns that his wife is having an affair with Brook and this makes him realize what a stooge he has been. The voices of his country home pervade his consciousness in “Come Home”, a panegyric to the simple joys of rural life, sung by Marjorie.  It is a beautiful hymn, but it is too idealistic and one-sided:  “You will find a world of honest friends who miss you.  You will shake the hands of men whose hands are strong…”  The implication is that Joe is out of place in the city and needs to return to his roots where honest folk dwell.  The contrast between the evils of the city and the inherent goodness of  the small town becomes too stark.  Also, Oscar seems to have forgotten by the time theme which began the play and what was central to Wilder’s play.  Wilder kept the Webb and Gibbs families in Grover Corners,  but when Hammerstein sent Joe and Jennie to the city, Allegro no longer had the continuity of the first act.

By adhering to Lansdale’s rules, Joe has been appointed successor to Dr. Bigby Denby.  But when Joe describes the doctor as “an ornament”, he becomes aware of the artificial and superficial hospital existence and declines the appointment.  Naturally, the chorus and ghosts of Marjorie and Grandma Taylor appear on stage to applaud his decision.  Emily and Charlie decide to join him in his hometown practice.

A number of caveats arise:  ” Jennie and Ned Brinker originated from Joe’s town, so the country is not as idyllic as Oscar paints it.  Also, the Depression has happened.  Things and circumstances are changing in Joe’s town as elsewhere.  Time does not stand still, and Joe will face a community different than the one he left.  The implication that there are no decent doctors in Chicago or a big city is absurd.  Surely, a large city needs good doctors as much as a small town.  That is why the ending seems too pat, almost too abrupt.  We never see what ensues when Joe, his future wife, Emily, and best friend, Charlie, return to work with Joe’s father.

Allegro is a musical that tried hard, was innovative and dramatic.  However, ultimately, this was a musical that couldn’t.

Note:  The first complete recording of Allegro was issued a few years ago by masterworks broadway.  It contains all the music described in this post, and offers superb performances by Patrick Wilson as Joseph Taylor, Jr.,  who endows his character with warmth and charm. Audra McDonald as Marjorie Taylor sings with compassion and understanding.  Other cast members bring this musical to life as it moves from the rural life to city life.  My only criticism is that Jennie’s character does not come through, so some of the drama is lost.  Inclusion of the confrontation scene between Marjorie and Jennie in Act 1 might have solved that problem.  Nevertheless, we are fortunate to have such an outstanding version of this often bewildering and always challenging musical.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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