That second chance begins Jan. 6 with the first performance of a revised version of the 1947 experimental musical, being produced by Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA. Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer (Broadway's Putting It Together) directs.
Allegro is a rare original show for the famed team of Rodgers and lyricist-librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, known for turning novels, memoirs and plays into musical theatre hits The King and I, Oklahoma!, South Pacific and Carousel.
The show was an experimental and frustrating experience for creators and audiences alike and ran only 315 performances. The show has been unsolved in production for more than 50 years, but now book writer Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, The Thing About Men) takes a crack at it for Signature, with the blessing of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization.
For the Jan. 6-Feb. 22 run, Will Gartshore has the role of hero Joseph Taylor, Jr., a doctor who is tempted by big institutions and away from his more humane hometown values. Jonathan Tunick provides new orchestrations.
The cast includes April Harr Blandin as Marjorie Taylor, Harry A. Winter as Joseph Taylor Sr., Donna Migliaccio as Ethel/Miss Lansdale, Tracy Lynn Olivera as Sally Ann, Dana Krueger as Muriel, Laurie Saylor as Jennie, Stephen Gregory Smith as Charlie, Evan Casey as Vincent, Carl Randolph as Dr. Lansdale, Jenna Sokolowski as Hazel, Eric Thompson as Ethan, Lauren Williams as Mitzi and Dan Manning as Ned/Dr. Denby. Designer Eric Grims creates a non-tradition scenic design that accommodates projections and lights. Sound design is by Tony Angelini. Prop design is by Elsie Jones. Gregg Barnes is costume designer. Ken Billington is lighting designer and projections are by Michael Clark.
Musical director is Jon Kalbfleisch.
DiPietro gets the credit "book adapted by." Oscar Hammerstein II wrote book and lyrics, and the work has been called his most personal show in its depiction of a decent Everyman trying to make his way in the world, from birth to adulthood. Music is by Richard Rodgers.
"In Our Town style, this before-its-time musical explored one man’s life and times — in a way still fresh and timely today," according to Signature's production notes. "With new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick and a revised book by Joe DiPietro, Allegro brings the world a new Rodgers & Hammerstein musical."
How much surgery has been done on the libretto?
"It's fairly extensive," said Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. "It's an idea that came up with Jamie Hammerstein [Oscar's late son]. Jamie found I Love You, You're Perfect and produced that show, and he felt a parental thing for those writers. Before Jamie died I had a meeting with Joe and Jamie. They were talking about Allegro. Joe said he thought one of the keys to the plot was the relationship between Joe Taylor, Jr. and his father. Here I was, talking to Jamie and a sort of surrogate son talking about a doing a piece having to do perhaps with Jamie and his father."
The Hammerstein lyrics being sacred, no new lyrics will be added by DiPietro, whose verse is heard in Off-Broadway's current The Thing About Men.
"What one does find with Hammerstein is, because he was such a craftsman, there are sometimes cut lyrics," Chapin explained. "The 'new ' lyrics that were in [the recent revisal of] Flower Drum Song were all lyrics he had written that got pushed aside or cut out of town."
But songs from other shows will not be pulled into the framework of Allegro, Chapin said.
"The story starts in 1905 on the day Joseph Taylor, Jr., is born, and follows his life to his 35th birthday," according to a note in the Modern Library published edition of the play. "The three major locations of action are in his home town, his college town, and a large city, all in the same Midwestern state.
"There are no stage 'sets' in the conventional sense, but backgrounds for action are achieved by small scenic pieces on a moving stage, by light projections, and by drops.
"The singing chorus is used frequently to interpret the mental and emotional reactions of the principal characters, after the manner of a Greek chorus."
For more information about Signature Theatre in Virginia. visit www.signature-theatre.org.
Richard Nelson tried his hand at a revision of the property, interpolating things about Hammerstein's life into the story. A production of that conceit did not materialize.
In his autobiography, "Musical Stages," Rodgers said that he and Hammerstein failed to give a proper point of view for the show: Was it about rejecting the city life for the country? Was it about the corrupting power of money and big institutions?
Rodgers wrote in 1975, "From time to time, various ideas for revising Allegro have been proposed, and though so far none has seemed feasible, I still keep hoping."
For the uninitiated, "allegro" means "lively" in Italian. The dictionary says as a direction in music, it's "faster than allegretto but slower than presto."