2014-04-30 / Features

APAC Artists Re-Envision R&H’s Allegro


Dancers rehearse for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro at Astoria Performing Arts Company (APAC). 
Photos Paul Fox Dancers rehearse for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro at Astoria Performing Arts Company (APAC). Photos Paul Fox The musical, Allegro comes to life this spring at Astoria Performing Arts Company (APAC), May 1 at the theatre’s home on Crescent Street and 30th Avenue. A Rodgers and Hammerstein “rare gem”, as Director Tom Wojtunik calls it, Allegro brings the talents of APAC veteran Choreographer Christine O’Grady together with Music Director Julianne B. Merrill to re-invigorate this classic in a production that promises to be packed with unforgettable tunes and plenty of dance.

O’Grady first started choreographing for APAC with Children of Eden in 2010. She grew up dancing, she said, but ultimately received her master’s degree in directing. A career highlight was the work she did as associate choreographer for the 2009 production of the Broadway musical, HAIR, as well as mounting the national and international tours of that show between 2010 and 2013.

“My directing background helps me tell stories through dance – using bodies and movement more than spoken dialogue,” O’Grady said.

To a large degree she was inspired by the work of Agnes DeMille, choreographer of the original production of Allegro, as well as other famed Rodgers and Hammerstein classics, such as Carousel and Oklahoma!.

Merrill started with APAC as music director of 2013’s Blood Brothers, having already known O’Grady from previous shows they’d done together. Originally from Indianapolis, Merrill came to New York a classically trained pianist. She now lives in Astoria, working as a pianist, and doing sound design and editing.

“Theatre is in my blood,” she said.

Her father is an opera stage director, and most members of her family are “techies”, as she put it.

The first musical she worked on was The Rocky Horror Picture Show at her alma mater, DePauw University.

For Allegro, Merrill’s role as music director is multi-faceted. She teaches and maintains the vocal parts, rehearses and sustains the quality of the orchestra, and plays and conducts the show. But the work is even more complex than that.

“For this project, we are reducing the original orchestration scored for 30 instru- ments down to seven musicians,” she explained. “To do so, I’ve incorporated creative ways to cover specific instrument lines, such as the violin and flute playing in harmony to cover string parts...Other instances include placing a straight mute in a trumpet to cover an oboe or English horn line and using keyboards to fill in extra strings, brass, reeds, etc.”

Not only is the orchestra pared down, but so is the cast. In the original Broadway production there were 80 performers, now everyone in the cast of 20, including two children, does double or triple duty, according to O’Grady, as actors, singers, and dancers. All the changes, O’Grady and Merrill stress, were not only approved, but encouraged by the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization, which is eager to see this production of Allegro flourish at APAC.

O’Grady said, “We’re making it into a more digestible form for a 2014 audience. It’s a very different approach than the original.”

“It’s a very personal story in the way the audience will connect with it,” Merrill offered. “The experience will be different than going to see The Sound of Music, Carousel, or Oklahoma!. This story is applicable across all maps and all generations.”

“It’s an everyman story,” O’Grady added. “It’s about coming home to yourself, and not being afraid to make a change in your life if you’ve gone astray.”

Merrill commented that, though written in 1947, Allegro has a very current theme.

“Many shows [today] are trying to find the more realistic human connection, as opposed to fantastical stories,” she said. “It’s really on par with what we, as audience members, are looking for in theatre right now.”

When asked what excited her about this particular show, Merrill remarked, “My grandmother always says if she goes to a show and can’t come away whistling a tune, she doesn’t want to see it. This show has beautiful tunes that you can go away whistling. It’s music most people haven’t heard before. It will be a lush experience on the ears.”

O’Grady referenced the work of Allegro’s Set Designer Stephen K. Dobay: “What’s exciting is the amount of space we get to fill with the movement,” she said. “We can really burst into it it’s so big. He has given us an amazing space that is wide open but can be brought down in the intimate moments.”

Finally, the two artists expressed thanks to the leadership of Wojtunik, and all who are making this production come together, in particular the support of Associate Choreographer Julianne Katz and Associate Music Director Kelly Thomas. As a side note, they mentioned that much of the cast and staff are from Astoria. Said O’Grady, “People you see at the grocery store will be pirouetting around the stage!”

Get your tickets now at APACNY.org. The show runs from May 1, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., through May 17.

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