Musical (1947)


Musique: Richard Rodgers
Paroles: Oscar Hammerstein II
Livret: Oscar Hammerstein II

Allegro is a musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics), their third collaboration for the stage. Opening on Broadway on October 10, 1947, the musical centers on the life of Joseph Taylor, Jr.—Joe follows in the footsteps of his father as a doctor, but is tempted by fortune and fame at a big-city hospital.
After the immense successes of the first two Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Oklahoma! and Carousel, the pair sought a subject for their next play. Hammerstein had long contemplated a serious work which would deal with the problems of the ordinary man in the fast-moving modern world. He and Rodgers sought to create a work which would be as innovative as their first two stage musicals. To that end, they created a play with a large cast, including a Greek chorus. The production would have no sets; props and projections served to suggest locations.
After a disastrous tryout in New Haven, Connecticut, the musical opened on Broadway to a large advance sale of tickets, and very mixed reviews. Agnes de Mille, the choreographer of Rodgers and Hammerstein's previous Broadway productions, both directed and choreographed the work. The show was viewed as too moralistic, and the Broadway run ended after nine months; it was followed by a short national tour. It had no West End production, and has rarely been revived. Allegro has been recorded twice, the original cast album and a studio recording released in 2009.

Acte I
The play opens with Marjorie Taylor in bed, in 1905. Wife of small town doctor Joseph Taylor, she has just had a son. The people of the town predict great things for Joseph Taylor, Jr., or Joe as he will come to be called (Joseph Taylor, Jr.). Joe learns what a baby learns: the comforting presence of his mother, the presence of another figure, who does not smell as nice, and who always leaves as soon as he picks up his black bag. Joe is seen as a baby and then not again as a child; the audience takes his perspective. Joe's Grandma notices him trying to walk, calls for Marjorie to witness the first steps, and once he takes them, as the chorus states, "the world belongs to Joe" (One Foot, Other Foot). Joe grows to school age, and loses his beloved Grandma. He is comforted by Jenny Brinker, a businessman's daughter. The two grow to high school age and date, though Joe lacks the nerve to kiss her, to Jenny's frustration. As Joe prepares to leave for college, Dr. Taylor hopes that his son will help him in his medical practice, and he and Marjorie wonder if Joe will marry Jenny (A Fellow Needs a Girl).
At the freshman mixer (Freshman Dance), the audience finally sees Joe onstage. He marvels at his new world, in which he is a loner (A Darn Nice Campus). Joe serves ineffectively as a cheerleader (The Purple and the Brown), rooting for the Wildcats, whose star player is Joe's freshman classmate Charlie Townsend. Both are pre-medical students and soon become close friends. The friendship helps both; Joe gains entrance to Charlie's fraternity and social circles, while Charlie is allowed to copy Joe's conscientious schoolwork.
While Joe is at college, Jenny remains at home, and her wealthy father, Ned Brinker, who disapproves of Joe for spending so many years in school before earning a living, encourages her to find other boyfriends. Jenny does not bother to conceal these romances in her letters; Joe is finally fed up, and goes on a double date with Charlie and two girls. Beulah, Joe's date, is initially enthusiastic about the budding romance (So Far) but walks away in disgust when Joe, who is unable to keep thoughts of Jenny from his mind, falls asleep after a passionate kiss. Jenny breaks up with the boy that Joe was afraid would marry her, and she is waiting for Joe when he returns home (You Are Never Away). Marjorie Taylor is convinced that Jenny is the wrong girl for Joe, and after a confrontation with Jenny when she tells her this, Marjorie dies of a heart attack. Despite the disapproval of both families (What a Lovely Day for a Wedding), Joe and Jenny marry, a wedding observed by the unhappy ghosts of Marjorie and Grandma (Wish Them Well).

Acte II
It is the Depression. Joe makes a bare living as assistant to his father. Mr. Brinker's business has failed, and he lives with the couple, who are experiencing poverty for the first time in their lives. The poverty affects Jenny more than Joe—the new Mrs. Taylor dislikes life as an impoverished housewife (Money Isn't Everything). When she learns that Joe turned down a lucrative offer from a prominent Chicago physician, who is Charlie's uncle, Jenny at first rages. When she finds that is not effective, she gets him to change his mind through guilt—if he accepts Dr. Denby's offer, he can earn the money to start the small hospital of which his father dreams and they will have the money to bring up a child properly.
Joe accepts the job, and sadly leaves his father. He soon finds himself ministering to hypochondriacs; he is required to spend time at cocktail parties marked by useless conversation (Yatata, Yatata, Yatata). Charlie is also part of the practice, but the former football star has turned to drink. Joe himself is becoming careless due to the distractions; one mistake is caught by his nurse, Emily, who greatly admires the physician Joe could be (The Gentleman is a Dope). Denby congratulates Joe on his skills, both medical and social. The elder doctor has less time for a nurse, Carrie Middleton who has worked at his hospital for thirty years and once dated him, but who is involved in a labor protest—Denby orders her fired at the request of Lansdale, an influential trustee and soap manufacturer. Charlie, Joe and Emily comment on the frenetic pace of the Chicago world in which they live (Allegro).
Joe has become increasingly disillusioned by his life in the city, and worries about his former patients in his home town. He learns that Jenny is having an affair with Lansdale. As Joe sits, head in hands, his late mother and a chorus of the friends he left behind appeal to him to return (Come Home). Joe has been offered the position of physician-in-chief at the Chicago hospital, replacing Denby, who is taking an executive position, or as the elder doctor terms it, being "kicked upstairs". At a dedication of a new pavilion at the hospital, Joe has a revelation and shifts the path of his life; as he does so, Grandma appears and calls for Marjorie to come watch, an echo of the scene in which he learned to walk. Joe refuses the position, and will return to his small town to assist his father, accompanied by Emily and Charlie, but not by Jenny (Finale: One Foot, Other Foot" (reprise)).

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