The 1947 musical is a rare original show for the famed team that turned novels and plays into such musical theatre gold as Oklahoma!, South Pacific and Carousel.
The show was an experimental and frustrating experience for creators and audiences 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.
The cast at the Signature Jan. 6-Feb. 22, 2004, includes Harry A. Winter as Joseph Taylor Sr., Donna Migliaccio as Ethel/Miss Lansdale, Tracy Lynn Olivera as Sally Ann, Dana Krueger as Muriel, Stephen Gregory Smith as Charlie and Dan Manning as Ned/Dr. Denby. Additional casting will be announced.
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. Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer (Broadway's Putting It Together, Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration) directs.
"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 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.sig-online.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.