2014-05-07 / Features

Allegro: For Musical Lovers


Daniella Dalli as Marjorie Taylor and Andy Lebon as Dr. Joseph Taylor in APAC’s Allegro. 
Photos Paul Fox Daniella Dalli as Marjorie Taylor and Andy Lebon as Dr. Joseph Taylor in APAC’s Allegro. Photos Paul Fox As the audience enters the theatre for Astoria Performing Arts Company’s production of Allegro, they are greeted to a wonderful visual: at the stage end of the large, open performance area the seven piece orchestra is arranged on pedestals and behind is a low panel, framed by an ethereal scrim of blue sky that seems to stretch into infinity. The play begins with the happy event of Joe Taylor’s birth. His father, a small town doctor, rejoices over his entrance into the world while his mother and grandma dote. The chorus provides his infant cries and inner thoughts, and as Joe grows up and meets Jennie, his future sweetheart, the singers, dancers, and actors of the chorus supply not only the role of Joe’s conscience, but of neighbors and various people who make up his life. The young lovers mature, and it seems inevitable they will marry and live happily ever after. But what is a tale without twists, turns, conflict and surprise? Allegro, directed by Tom Wojtunik, brings it all, and does so amidst stunning dance numbers and beautiful songs, staying true to the style of the traditional musical that composer Richard Rodgers and librettist/lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II were famous for.

Fiona Shea as Young Jennie Brinker and Christopher Milo as Young Joey Taylor. Fiona Shea as Young Jennie Brinker and Christopher Milo as Young Joey Taylor. Thanks to the talents of Choreographer Christine O’Grady, the audience was treated to everything from lovely ballet steps to lively 1920s era dances, expertly performed. The orchestra, conducted by Music Director Julianne B. Merrill, was comprised of such an inventive array of instruments, they were as much a part of the spectacle as they were the backbone of the show. Stephen K. Dobay’s set was simpler than for past productions in that space, but exactly what was needed: a huge floor for the action to expand into (the spectators seated in three-quarter round), and charming, era-appropriate representations of home, doctor’s office, front yard, etc. Vintage lamps, hanging from the ceiling and providing soft illumination, caught my attention at first, while other fea- tures of the lighting, designed by Dan

Jobbins were more subtle, always perfectly suited to the moment. The costumes, designed by Summer Lee Jack, were gorgeous as well as versatile, while the production wouldn’t have been complete without the superb skills of Sound Designer David A. Thomas, and Props Designer Katie K. White.

The part of Joe, in all his naiveté, was well handled by Mark Banik. His character’s struggles were palpable as he searched for the path to becoming a good man and caring doctor. Jennie was played by Crystal Kellogg, an actress able to tackle the subtleties of a character who was not always likeable, but often sympathetic, bringing to the part a strong and true singing voice. Manna Nichols as Emily was another stand out. Her voice was so lovely, and her personality so engaging, we rooted for her from the first time we saw her as Joe’s college date. Her song to Joe, “So Far”, was a transcendent moment. College chum Charlie, played by Joshua Stenseth, brought a great comic presence to the show; an actor able to create a seamless transition from opportunist to true friend. Christopher Milo and Fiona Shea played Joe and Jennie as children, appearing not only early in the story, but returning throughout to remind the characters of their true paths. Both of them bright young stars, Milo and Shea particularly shone in a brilliantly directed and choreographed number, “One Foot, Other Root”, in which the chorus echoed the movements of little Joe as he learned to walk, run, and play. The song, “Come Home”, toward the end of the show, sung by Daniella Dalli as Marjorie, Joe’s mother, was another of my favorite moments – her voice angelic yet powerful, and her presence commanding.

All in all, Allegro is a musical lover’s musical, more music than spoken dialogue, the creators’ device to move the plot along by use of song. Written in 1947, some of the values seem a little more fitting to a pre-war mentality than today’s, especially that of a woman’s role being to support her man, and how she might use her feminine influence to steer him to her will. But fortunately, that perspective evolves into something more relatable toward the end of the show. It’s a period piece, yet also a sweeping look at the choices we make and how they affect us. Wojtunik has displayed his affinity for this kind of story with other musicals he’s directed at Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) in his six-year tenure there as artistic director: the examination of life from birth to death and the roads taken for better or worse. Allegro is Wojtunik’s final show at APAC, but I’m sure I speak for the Astoria community in saying that we hope to be witness to his extraordinary creativity and bold vision for theatre in other circumstances in the near future. Allegro was a fitting finale to his time with the company, and fans of both his and APAC’s should be sure to catch it.

Allegro runs through May 17, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. Visit APAC’s Web site for tickets: www.apacny.org.

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