note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
It’s tough to decide where to go when two theaters, both located within the same vicinity, one professional, the other community, are presenting the same two-hour musical play simultaneously. Most theatergoers won’t opt to attend both.
Stoneham Theatre and Winthrop Playmakers are presenting lively versions of “42nd Street,” the splashy 1980 Broadway hit that boasts classic showtunes by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, including “Lullaby of Broadway,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” “Shuffle off to Buffalo,” “We’re in the Money,” and”You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me”. The play, originally a successful Warner Brothers’ movie in 1933, premiered on stage at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theater in 1980 as a big, splashy musical, based on the novel by Bradford Ropes, with book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble.
It has the typical musical theater plot - smalltown ingenue bungles her way onto Broadway stage, replaces the demanding star who becomes injured, saves the show, and finds romance and stardom. Although the plot is frayed around the edges, this corny, happy-go-lucky, song-and-dance fest continues to delight audiences. Unfortunately, when the show opened initially on Broadway in 1980, director/choreographer Gower Champion didn’t live to see how successful his fancy, fast footwork became. He died on opening night, unaware his work survived and superseded the test of time.
Although we groan at the play’s Depression-era lingo, such as “hoofer” and “dame,” the harmony and beat of songs that were once “the cat’s pajamas” are infectious. We tap our feet, beating time, reminiscing to the pulsating rhythm of “42nd Street”.
Stoneham’s three-piece band, led by pianist extraordinaire Jim Rice, takes center stage throughout the two-act, two-hour production, adding big sound and professional clout to all numbers, while Kathyrn Kawecki’s set, with its few large glitzy props and staircases, ensures the 19-member, vivacious cast has room to strut their stuff. Despite some well-performed numbers, the first act is disjointed and drags at times; but the production gets into full swing during the second act, especially when the ensemble “goes into its dance”.
Well-known Boston star/Stoneham native Kathy S. George, as aging diva Dorothy Brock received a hearty welcome, and is a viable foil to fresh-faced Ephie Aardema, who sings and dances her heart out as ingenue Peggy Sawyer. Lanky dance captain Andy McLeavey looks swanky in top hat, tails and tux, and provides youthful, romantic chemistry as lead actor Billy Lawlor, who only has eyes and tap shoes for Peggy. The rest of the cast lends energetic support here.
Every show has its star, and at Winthrop Playmakers, Ben DiScipio as Broadway director Julian Marsh shines brightly in “42nd Street,” whether he’s barking orders to his production’s cast and crew, teaching romantic lines to wide-eyed, tippy-tap-toe ingenue from Allentown, Pa., Peggy Sawyer, or inspiring her - and us - with a bombastic rendition of “Lullaby of Broadway”.
Portraying Peggy is newcomer Jenn Segawa, who in real life is a Boston University Ph.D. neuroscience candidate. She has performed elsewhere in musical productions, and in “42nd Street,” she tapdances in double-time, sings and acts admirably, sparking this vibrant cast of 23.
Also new to Winthrop Playmakers and another pleasant surprise is Maria Wardell as mature diva Dorothy Brock. Amanda Allen and Janet McDonough’s costumes add nostalgic dash to the 1930‘s era, while Nathan Fogg’s lighting nicely changes mood and setting
. It’s also a joy to welcome back choreographer and former longtime Playmaker, Chad Flahive, whose signature moves motivate the cast while delighting audiences.
BOX INFO: Directed, choreographed by Ilyse Robbins, appearing through May 29, at 395 Main St., Stoneham. Performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets, $44-$48; senior discounts. Students, $20. Additional senior matinees, May 18,25 at 2 p.m., all seats $30. Call 781-279-2200 or visit www.stonehamtheatre.org.
BOX INFO: Directed by Ken Vining, choreographed by Chad Flahive, appearing May 20-22, Friday, Saturday, at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Winthrop Playhouse, 60 Hermon St., Winthrop. Advance tickets are $18; seniors, students, $15; at the door, $20/$17. Call 617-539-1175.