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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Top Notch Talent lights up Village Theatre's 42nd Street

42nd Street
Shelly Burch and James Scheider
In 1933, the Warner Brothers film musical 42nd Street roused the country during the Great Depression and, since the show was cannily reconstituted for the stage as Gower Champion's final Broadway triumph in 1980, it has never ceased to be a crowd pleaser. Filled with the sense of love and joy director/choreographer Steve Tomkins obviously feels for the piece, Village Theatre's 30th season closer production is a non-stop lark, fleet on its feet, and brimming with larger than life but not over-the-top performances by an ideal cast of actors, singers and dancers. The jubilant opening night audience was packed to the rafters, and the show deserves SRO status throughout its run.

Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble's book provides just enough plot and a panorama of familiar backstage characters to reincarnate the glory days of the Busby Berkeley era of Hollywood musicals, and the evergreen music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin were cannily culled from the film scores of not only 42nd Street but such other box-office bonanzas as Gold Diggers of 1933, Dames and Go Into Your Dance, among others. The plot, such as it is, is an archetypal backstage musical tale of producer/director Julian Marsh losing Dorothy Brock, the headliner of his Broadway Bound show Pretty Lady, to an onstage mishap, allowing for game but unproven, apple-cheeked chorine Peggy Sawyer to step into the spotlight and begin her own rise to show-biz stardom. Marsh is portrayed with a gruff panache by the suave John Bogar, and Broadway vet Shelly Burch aces the role of Dorothy, moving from imperious diva dragon lady to ultimately encouraging mentor to her replacement. Burch kills on all of her vocal assignments, but especially impresses with her torchy solo turn on "I Only Have Eyes for You." Krystal Armstrong is an absolute knockout of a Peggy Sawyer, singing and dancing like a dream, but also investing her characterization with a winsome wackiness mixed with the butterflies in the stomach nerves the character has on the eve of her Broadway bow. Armstrong and Burch also pair winningly on their late act two duet "About a Quarter to Nine." As the self-impressed but likable juvenile lead Billy Lawlor, James Scheider carries a heavy vocal and dance load admirably, and never disappoints, from his "Young and Healthy" with Armstrong to heading up the snappy "Dames" production number.

The production is loaded with talent in its supporting roles too, starting with Leslie Law as wry show writer Maggie Jones, and Matt Wolfe as her goofy partner Bert Barry. Law, who knows how to hold for a big laugh better than anybody in town, steals the smashing "Lullaby of Broadway" showstopper with her solo section and, with Wolfe, dominates the playful "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" production number. As Dorothy's warring beaus, Allan Barlow scores chuckles as boisterous Texan kiddie car mogul and sugar daddy Abner Dillon, while Julian Schrenzel smoothly underplays the role of her true love Pat Denning. As the trio of chorine chums Anytime Annie, Phyllis and Lorraine, Jennifer Weingarten, Carissa Campbell and Kristin Culp (who also co-choreographed with Tomkins) bring added zing to the proceedings, and Ross Cornell is solid as "Pretty Lady" choreographer Andy Lee.

Tap musicals are a Steve Tomkins specialty, and he must have unearthed every available tap-dance whiz kid (and taught a few how to tap) in order to come up with the winning ensemble that light up every production number from curtain rise to final bow. As expected, the climactic, extended title number in the show's final quarter does not disappoint, although the "Lullaby of Broadway" number earlier in act two shows the company off just as fabulously, and without a single tap step. Co-Musical directors Tim Symons and Bruce Monroe have done a slam-bang job with their vocalists, and with a larger than usual Village pit band that makes the Warren score sound fresh as a daisy. Robert A. Dahlstrom's sets are a succession of sleek, vibrant images, and Aaron Copp's lighting design adds to their radiance. Costume coordinator Melanie Burgess has outfitted the large cast with enough sparkle, spangles and stardust to fill a Cinemascope screen, and her self-designed costumes for Maggie are a triumph of classy kitsch.

At two hours and fifteen minutes, this 42nd Street feels even more fleet-footed than that. It allows an audience ample escapism from the new Depression we are all weathering. Who can ask for more from a musical comedy?

42nd Street runs through July 3, 2010 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre 303 Front Street North , in Issaquah, then moves to the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue in Everett, July 9-August 1, 2010. For ticketing and other information go to www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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