42nd Street/book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble/music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin/directed by Jon Engstrom/MTW, Long Beach/through November 11
With its delicious backstage dramas 42nd Street became a huge hit on Broadway in 1980 years after the success of the 1933 film choreographed by Busby Berkeley. Familiar characters Julian Marsh, Dorothy Brock and Peggy Sawyer became heros/heroines all over again. What Broadway needed was a return to the good old days of flashy dance numbers and pure golden entertainment, and 42nd Street was the answer. Now in a splashy new revival at MTW, Jon Engstrom, who has had a long association with the show - over 60 directions of it - helms a dandy cast.
This is 1933. It's always great fun to see a super talented person get the opportunity to go on for an ailing star and make it big- unrealistic and very rare by today's standards, but fun. Imagine! When Peggy Sawyer (Tessa Grady), fresh from Allentown, Pa, gets the chance to assume the lead in Julian Marsh's (Damon Kirsche) new extravaganza Pretty Lady, since its star Dorothy Brock (Tracy Lore) has fallen and broken her ankle, she has the chance of a lifetime. However, Marsh is a hellishly relentless taskmaster who throws the success of the entire enterprise in her lap, so it is no wonder that she hesitates to accept, and when she does, gradually collapses from exhaustion and fear. Of course, those who have seen the film and show know the ending but it's the backstage backstabbing and tomfoolery that make the proceedings so exciting to watch. Brock, true to form, is a diva and clashes consistently with Marsh's digs and criticisms of her talent. She has a sugar daddy Abner Dillon (Paul Ainsley), who has invested heavily in the show, and a lover Pat Dennning (Christopher Guilmet) whom she calls upon to come rescue her from what she considers her foul, uncalled for treatment. Marsh can assuredly rely on loyal assistant Bert Barry (Jamie Torcellini) and fast-talking book writer Maggie Jones (Barbara Carlton Heart) who try to keep things up, bright and moving forward for the oh so eager gypsies. Of course, Peggy's sweet charisma and great talent wins them all over, so they root steadily for her rise to the top.
The cast is just glorious guided by Engstrom's dynamic staging and fast and furiously paced tap choreography. Kirsche has his finest hour as Marsh, the no-nonsense director who finds himself falling for Sawyer's simple charms. Lore is sensational as Brock with great comic timing and beautifully sympathetic and touching in her Act II scene where she reassures Sawyer and gives her blessing. Grady is adorable as Peggy and a terrific tapper. Torcellini is hilarious as Barry and moves like a bolt of lightning about the stage; Heart is also a marvelously skilled comic actress in her big sister, sardonic Eve Ardenish support of the troops. Caitlyn Calfas is also a standout as Ann "Anytime Annie" Reilly and Zach Hess, an attractive and eager Billy Lawlor. The 20+ member ensemble are all wondrously thrilling to behold, with special notice to Karl Warden for his astounding leaps and bounds. Costumes by The Theatre Company are period perfect, although the touring sets have seen their heyday, perhaps time for a touch-up paint job or two.
The title song says it all. "It's naughty, bawdy, gaudy, sporty...Forty-Second Street." Harry Warren and Al Dubin's "Shadow Waltz", "You're Getting To Be a Habit With Me", "We're in the Money", "Lullaby of Broadway", "About a Quarter to Nine", "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" add up to musical magic. And with Jon Engstrom's super direction and choreography and this cast's nonstop excellent tapping, cavorting, and devilishly fine chemistry, this production of 42nd Street dazzles from top to bottom.