"The Gentleman Is a Dope" - Great Songs From Troubled Musicals
Everyone knows Rodgers and Hammerstein for their contributions that altered the direction of the American musical theatre: integrating score, character development, and plot in a way that all were interconnected and took what musical storytelling could accomplish to new heights. It started with Oklahoma! in 1943, and carried through the next decade-and-a-half with Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music. Along the way, Rodgers and Hammerstein had their share of flop musicals as well, but the scores of these shows are no less distinguished than those of the aforementioned masterpieces. One of their finest musical experiments was the groundbreaking Allegro. The musical opened after the enormous successes of Oklahoma! and Carousel with one of the highest advanced ticket sales to date, but closed in under a year when audiences weren't moved by its more conteporary themes and production values. Perhaps Allegro was too far ahead of its time?
Allegro is a musical allegory. It tells the tale of Joseph Taylor, Jr., from his birth to a small town doctor and his wife, through his childhood, adolescence, to his college experience and his eventual career as a doctor. Propelled by his ambitious wife Jenny, Joe is encouraged to leave his small town ideals behind and to move to the big city where he can find greater financial success and prestige catering to the depressed hypochondriacs of the upper crust. His nurse Emily sees the altruistic, idealist at Joe's heart and encourages him to return to his home to be a real doctor again. Eventually he leaves his wife and does return home with Emily by his side.
Emily, who is clearly frustrated by Joe's inability to stand up to his wife and do what he thinks is important, laments her feelings for this confused soul through the comic torch song "The Gentleman is a Dope." Rodgers' music moves back and forth between a pulsing determination and a tentative loveliness, underscoring Emily's conflict between anger and unrequited love. Hammerstein's lyrics are some of his most cynical, reflecting Emily's sardonic outlook on the situation. "The Gentleman is a Dope" is a fine example of a character number, revealing inner thoughts through musical soliloquy and letting the audience see a whole new dimension on a character.