The quintessential '30s musical debuted on Broadway in 1980 and lasted for almost 3500 performances. A 2001 revival was was also successful, with a 1500-performance run, and the show is a tour and regional darling. Based loosely on the 1933 film of the same name (which was in turn based on a novel by Bradford Ropes), the plot seems ages old: neophyte dancer Peggy Sawyer, fresh off the bus from Allentown, lands on Broadway looking for her big break. Despite her awkward introduction to producer Julian Marsh, she is cast in the chorus of his new, hopefully career-reviving musical Pretty Lady. The show's star is aging prima donna Dorothy Brock, whose sugar daddy is bankrolling the production. Of course, Peggy gets her bit break and all ends happily. On the way, we are treated to period songs by Harry Warren and by Al Dubin, stunning dance numbers (originally done by Gower Champion and freshened up magnificently here by Michael Lichtefeld), and a brisk and cute book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble.
To show that the story is still relevant, the CLO has plucked Alessa Neeck from the ensemble to star as Peggy Sawyer, and she delivers in spades. Neeck is adorable without being cloying, a smart actress, and an accomplished singer and dancer. She is a delight and, as a mere junior at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, she has a presence beyond her years. Her success here brings great anticipation for next week's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, in which she will play Ruth. Neeck has grabbed the golden ring and looks to have a very bright future.
Tom Wopat has established a post-TV career on Broadway with Annie Get Your Gun, Glengarry Glen Ross and replacement appearances in 42nd Street, Chicago, and Guys and Dolls. I find him charming, with a smoky voice that is easy on the ear. On opening night, he seemed a bit too loose, a little too much Tom Wopat rather than Julian Marsh, but his "Lullaby of Broadway," particularly the solo reprise, shows him a consummate musical theatre man.
Other supporting roles are well cast, particularly Ian Knauer as aging juvenile player Billy Lawlor. His performance really grew on me as the show progressed. He has lovely tenor voice and his Billy has an appealing casual confidence about him. Knauer delivers a knock-out stretch of dance in "We're in the Money." It's always a pleasure to see CLO regular Scott P. Sambuco on stage, and he succeeds in showing his talents as dance director Andy Lee, especially with his fancy footwork. Lynne Wintersteller avoids going over the top as Dorothy Brock, which is a good thing, and still finds abundant humor and a little pathos in the part. George Dvorsky appears briefly, but solidly, in the role of Pat Denning (I'm looking forward to seeing more of his dependable stage work next week). Nina Fluke is another standout; as Anytime Annie, she's a bundle of energy and a strong dancer.
The entire cast is supported very well by a fine ensemble. Considering the short time between shows in the rigorous CLO schedule, it's amazing when opening night (which is the very first performance) comes off well, and it often does albeit with the ubiquitous mike cue glitches. Many cast members just finished Grease a few evenings before.
Also contributing to the enjoyment of the evening are the handsome sets designed by Douglas W. Schmidt. The art deco-inspired painted backdrops are beautiful and they complete the 1930s portrait. Costumes by Roger Kirk are equally period-perfect.
42nd Street continues at the Benedum Theatre for Pittsburgh CLO through July 16. Visit www.pittsburghclo.org/ for ticket and performance information.
Pittsburgh CLO, Van Kaplan Executive Producer, presents 42nd Street. Music by Harry Warren. Lyrics by Al Dubin, Book by Michael Stewart and mark Bramble (based on the novel by Bradford Ropes). Choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld. Directed by Charles Repole. Original Direction and Dances by Gower Champion. Musical Director Craig Barna. Lighting Designed by John McLain. Scenery Designed by Douglas W. Schmidt. Costumes designed by Roger Kirk. Originally Produced on Broadway by David Merrick. Associate Producing Director Lori Berger. Production Technical Supervisor John R. Edkins. Associate Artistic Director Jason Coll. Production Stage Manager Renee Rimland. production manager Sean Edward West. Casting by Dave Clemmons Casting.
Cast: Tom Wopat (Julian Marsh), Lynne Wintersteller (Dorothy Brock), Ian Knauer (Billy Lawlor), Alessa Neeck (Peggy Sawyer), Susan Cella (Maggie Jones), Scott P. Sambuco (Andy Lee), Nina Fluke (Anytime Annie), George Dvorsky (Pat Denning), Paul Palmer (Abner Dillon), Jeff Howell (Mac/Thug/Doctor).
Ensemble: Zachary Berger, Brandon Bieber, Colin Bradbury, Kyle Brown, Patrick Cummings, Anderson Davis, Sheena DiMatteo, Heather Anne Ferri, Steffanie Garrard, Neil Haskell, Jessica Hershberg, Anne Horak, Justin Keyes, Alison Levenberg, R. J. Marshall, Courtney Laine Mazza, Rebecca Miller, Mara Newbery, Josh Rouah, Ashley Lauren Smith, Kathryn Lin Terza, Melissa Thomas, Natalie Weiss, Helene Yorke.