Also see Scott's recent review of Godspell
From the moment the curtain rises off the floor just enough to reveal a line of nearly seventy dancing legs tapping in perfect rhythm, the audience knows what to expect from the national tour of 42nd Street. The musical, which opens the 2002-2003 Fifth Third Bank Broadway In Cincinnati Series at the Aronoff Center, is a high-energy, crowd-pleasing, spectacle of a show.
A touring version of the 2001 Tony Award winning Broadway revival, this 42nd Street tells the backstage tale of the extremely talented yet naive Peggy Sawyer, who has just arrived in 1933 New York City hoping to become a star. Soon after arriving, she wins a spot in the ensemble of Director Julian Marsh's latest show, Pretty Lady. Her dreams seem dashed when she is fired after tripping the show's self-centered leading lady, Dorothy Brock, and causing the star singer to break her ankle. When everyone realizes that Peggy is the only person who can possible step in and take over the lead role, it is up to Marsh and the entire company of Pretty Lady to find Sawyer and bring her back.
Based on the 1933 movie musical of the same name, 42nd Street the stage show first landed on Broadway in 1980. The book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble is primarily lightweight fluff with predictable plotlines, a plethora of one-liners (some winners, some groaners), and a tendency to break into lengthy dance numbers with little cause. But all of this is easily forgivable, for the musical never takes itself too seriously and knows that it is mostly an excuse to showcase some well-known classics and wonderful tap dancing.
Those classic showstoppers include "Dames," "I Only Have Eyes For You," "We're In The Money," "Lullaby of Broadway," and the famous title number. The songs, with music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, are nicely incorporated into 42nd Street, often as performance pieces of the show within the show.
In an ironic example of life imitating art, an ensemble member within the 42nd Street company took over the leading role of Peggy Sawyer for Cincinnati's opening night when the regular performer, Catherine Wreford, went down with a leg injury a few nights earlier. Making the most of her time in the spotlight is Cara Cooper. Ms. Cooper performs like an experienced pro in the role. Her attractive singing and detailed portrayal are eclipsed only by her lightning fast tap skills. As Julian Marsh, Patrick Ryan Sullivan is an appropriately commanding figure and sings well on the title song. Blair Ross is aptly campy as Dorothy Brock and provides smoky vocals. Patti Mariano (Maggie), Frank Root (Bert), and Robert Spring (Billy) lead the talented forty-five member ensemble in supporting roles.
As with the current Broadway revival, the national tour of 42nd Street is directed by Mark Bramble (based somewhat on the original direction by Gower Champion). With a quick pace, lighthearted tone, and a keen eye for stunning visuals, Bramble's work is commendable. The musical, however, is fundamentally a dance show, and Randy Skinner's vibrant choreography (also borrowing from Champion's original dances) is what keeps this 42nd Street moving along.
The scenic design by Douglas W. Schmidt is varied, handsome, and fittingly glitzy, while remaining simple enough to take on tour. A large mirror is used to provide an aerial view for the audience in one number. An extraordinary number of costume changes showcase a kaleidoscope of colors and beautifully rendered outfits for the large cast, as provided by Roger Kirk.
The national tour of 42nd Street is mostly a light, mindless entertainment, but also a wonderfully delightful one. The lovely and talented cast, a familiar score, and top-notch choreography make it a show that is likely to please almost everyone. The musical continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through September 22, 2002, and tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816.