Last weekend while relaxing at Highland Farm, I noticed something new on the mantle of the fireplace. Christine Cole, the owner and innkeeper at Highland Farm B&B, had framed a small article about Oscar. The paragraph noted Oscar’s impetus to “experiment” resulting in the expansion of the musical theatre art form through Showboat (1927) and Oklahoma (1943). These shows were wildly successful experiments; Allegro (1947) was not.
I had always been curious about Allegro. It seemed like a deep dark family secret that no one wanted to talk about. Fortunately, David Lai, Bruce Pomahac, and Ted Chapin brought it to life in 2009 with the first complete recording featuring an all-star cast. My first listen was a thrill; the fruit of patient yearning. I connected with the piece sensing that Oscar was warning humanity not to succumb to the societal pressures and pleasures devised to keep one from unconsciously fulfilling his or her life purpose. As an explanation, he wrote: “It is a law of our civilization that as soon as a man proves he can contribute to the well-being of the world, there be created an immediate conspiracy to destroy his usefulness, a conspiracy in which he is usually a willing collaborator. Sometimes he awakens to his danger and does something about it. This is the story of Allegro. “
It was my story, too. In the spring of 1989, I showed the video Broadway production of Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine to my high school music appreciation class. I had seen the show several times on film. Unfortunately, my two attempts to attend the Broadway production were thwarted – first, due to childbirth in 1984; secondly with the closing of the show. Loving this musical gem and my students, I wanted them to learn life-lessons from it. However, I wasn’t prepared for the impact that this particular viewing of Sunday was to have on my personal life.
Over the course of the four days of viewing, the realization dawned like sunbeams gradually melting a dense fog that I was not who I thought I was. It woke me up with a jolt. I didn’t know who or what I was beneath the surface, but I knew that I was much more than just Jessica Bowman, the 38 year old wife, mom, and teacher. This had a profound and unnerving effect on me. It began a journey of self-discovery and an investigation of the “conspiracy” which had tried to destroy my usefulness (and self-confidence) since early childhood.
This search led me towards spirituality, a renewed kinship with Oscar, and for lack of a better way to express it, a willingness to experiment “with” Oscar in new forms of theatre and being. Last weekend, fifty of us had a ball singing in Oscar and Dorothy’s living room. We bonded, told stories about our adventures through R&H musicals, and sang with our hearts. We even met Billy Bigalow of Carousel who had married his high school Julie Jordon 32 years ago.
This weekend, Anna of The King and I will come alive through this humble blogger to lead her audience/cast members in an original theatre showcase called Oscar and I. Oscar continues to experiment. His audience is waking up. The conspiracy is being exposed. Allegro is a success!