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San Francisco by Richard Connema

42nd Street Is A Toe Tapping Treat

Also see Richard's review of Proof

42nd Street, the breezy musical about all those wonderful chorus boys and girls with their dancing feet is now at the Golden Gate Theatre in a great revival. You can’t get through this rhythmic musical without tapping your feet while watching the superb young and talented performaners dancing their hearts out. This is no ordinary bus and truck show, since there is a full complement of dancers and singers on stage to make this a top flight professional show worthy of Broadway.

42nd Street and I go way back, even before David Merrick decided to introduce the musical to New York on August 25, 1980 at the Winter Garden Theatre (the night that director Gower Champion died). My wonderful memories of the score go back to when I first started at Warner Bros as a young cameraman. We watched the film so many times that we knew all of the ’30s lines by heart.

I saw the original stage production three times in New York, twice in London (with Kenneth Nelson and Georgia Brown), and the 2001 New York revival at Ford Center for the Performing Art just before Christine Ebersole won her Tony for the character Dorothy Brock.

42nd Street is a nonstop parade of hummable Harry Warren and Al Dubin songs that have become classic standards over the years. I can hardly keep myself from singing and dancing with the cast to “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Dames” and the title song. The imaginative toe tapping choreography is breathtaking to watch with a large chorus doing great precision work on the large stage.

Listening to the great orchestra playing an upbeat overture and then watching that half raised curtain revealing lustrous legs, you know you are in for a “naughty, gaudy, bawdy” evening. The storyline of putting on Pretty Lady, a Julian Marsh (Darren Kelly) musical, is well known to all theater and film fans. The Cinderella story of Peggy Sawyer (Catherine Wreford), the spoiled temperamental leading lady Dorothy Brock (Marcy McGuigan) who has an “accident,” and the romantic tenor Billy Lawlor (David Elder) is still silly, but who cares?

42nd Street contains many great dance numbers, such as the sensational “Lullaby of Broadway,” and “42nd Street,” along with the final number after the curtain call. “Shadow Waltz” spotlights a fun comedically clumsy shadow dance routine on a large screen. “We’re in the Money” is an exhilarating teamwork dance number for the large company, and “I Only Have Eyes for You” is lovely. “Shuffle off to Buffalo” seems to have lost its spark, but Frank Root is especially good as the groom in the number. He does a great imitation of Clarence Nordstrom who did the dancing and singing role in the film.

Marcy McGuigan plays Dorothy Brock with a vitality and bitchy flair. She brings extreme excess to the character, a tyrant diva. McGuigan has a very good husky voice in her singing numbers. Catherine Wreford (who played Phyllis Dale in the original revival) is very appealing as a long legged and gangly Peggy Sawyer who has that naive appearance of a girl just coming in from Allentown, Pennsylvania. She is very notable in her tap dancing routines.

Darren Kelly plays Julian Marsh in a dictatorial manner. He plays the role more like Michael Cumpsty did in the revival than Jerry Orbach in the original. Kelly has a good baritone voice for the “Lullaby of Broadway” number. In the performance I saw, David Elder was standing in for Robert Spring in the role of tenor Billy Lawlor. (Elder was the original Billy in the 2001 revival on Broadway.) Elder has a smooth tenor voice and displays sprightly dancing feet in his numbers. He is especially good in the “Dames” number. Patti Mariano makes a spirited Maggie Jones. Alana Salvatore as Annie is full of wisecracking energy.

42nd Street is a treat for the eyes and ears of theatergoers. The inventive staging by Champion and Skinner includes jumbo-sized dimes held by the dancers and a great mirrored backdrop that highlights the dancers’ legs and arms in Busby Berkeley patterns. If you like musicals with good old fashioned tap routines, this is a show for you.

42nd Street plays through September 28th at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-512-7770 or visit www.bestofbroadway-sf.com. Coming to the Orpheum Theatre Best of Broadway series are Jesus Christ Superstar opening on September 23 followed by Cats beginning December 16. The Lion King opens in January.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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