Theatre Mirror Reviews - "42nd Street"

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entire contents copyright 2007 by Tony Annicone

"42nd Street"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Reagle Players' third production of their summer season is the Tony Award winning musical "42nd Street". It is loosely based on the 1933 movie of the same name which starred Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. The stage musical version opened on August 25,1980 and ran until January 8,1989 and starred Jerry Orbach as Julian Marsh. "42nd Street" is the tale of up and coming chorus girl, Peggy Sawyer, who arrive in NY seeking a Broadway career. Unfortunately she misses the audition for Pretty Lady but the suave tenor, Billy Lawlor, is attracted to Peggy and gets her to sing with him to get noticed by Julian Marsh who puts her into the show. During an out of town tryout in Philadelphia, Peggy accidentally trips and pushes Dorothy Brock, the prima-donna female lead, causing her to fall and break her ankle. After this, Julian fires Peggy who decides to head back home to Allentown, PA. Billy and the chorus convince Julian to persuade Peggy to stay with the show and take over the lead. After they all convince her to return to Pretty Lady, she becomes a star. Director/choreographer Eileen Grace who was in the Broadway cast of "42nd Street" and musical directors Karan Gahagan and Jeff Leonard infuse this show with the energy needed for this big dance extravaganza musical to become a masterpiece of musical theater. The unbelievable tap dancing and the vocal prowess of this huge cast leads the audience to cheers some of the numbers during the show and to reward it with a well deserved standing ovation at the curtain call. Bravo.

Eileen is assisted with her direction by Robert Eagle, the executive producer and artistic director, and by Susan Chebookjian who is also co-choreographer. Eileen and Susan recreate Gower Champion's original choreography. The precision of their dancers is astounding to watch including the opening group tap dance, "We're in the Money", "Lullaby of Broadway" and "42nd Street" in Act 2 with Victor Wisehart as the pickpocket with the red gloves. ( He danced in NY this past year and will be on tour in Europe this fall and next year. Victor is an outstanding dancer who has been with Reagle Player for several years, I saw him dance in "Carousel" with Shirley Jones at Reagle, and he is now an equity actor, too.) The scenery was designed by Robin Wagner and the costumes are provided by Costume World Theatrical in Florida and are based on the original costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge. Karen's musical direction of the vocalists is superb especially in "Dames", "Lullaby" and the title number, as is Jeff's musical direction of the orchestra and his conducting prowess. The orchestra is topnotch, too. Kudos to Eileen and company for assembling fabulous performers for this show.

John Antony tackles the role of Julian Marsh, the hard ass director who builds Peggy's confidence in herself to become a star. He sings the lead in "Lullaby of Broadway" and the finale number "42nd Street". John captures the brassiness needed for this role, doing an excellent job will doing so. Playing the bitchy diva, Dorothy Brock is SuEllen Estey. She is outstanding in this role and all her costumes are breathtakingly gorgeous. Dorothy Brock is like a 1930's Cruella DeVille. SuEllen rants and raves about wanting to be treated as the star, as Dorothy, making it hilarious while doing so. Her renditions of "Shadow Waltz", "Getting to be a Habit with Me" and the duet "About a Quarter to Nine" are wonderful but her best number is the tear jerking "I Know Now" where she shows off Dorothy's softer side when she finally realizes the man for her is Pat Denning. Both John and SuEllen are brilliant in their parts. The last time I saw both of them perform together was at Theatre by the Sea in Matunuck, RI back in 2002 in "Footloose" as Reverend Shaw and his wife, Vi. It was wonderful catching up with them again after all these years. Jessica Greeley shines as the ingenue, Peggy Sawyer. This girl is not only beautiful but she has a fantastic voice and terrific dancing skills, too. Jessica infuses the character with the necessary charm to pull off this role. She does an excellent job in "Young and Healthy" duet, "Go into your Dance" group number, where she dances better than the other three girls, the rehearsal scenes with Julian Marsh where she learns how to act after he kisses her several times and her best number, "42nd Street" with the chorus. Wonderful job by this young gal.

One of the strongest voices in the show belongs to Russell Rhodes as Billy Lawlor, the show's tenor. His voice soars in "Young and Healthy" where he tries to seduce Peggy, in "Dames" as the chorus boys dance in top hats and canes while the 22 chorus girls each enter in different colored gowns and in "Lullaby" where his voice soars off the charts in the highest note in the song. Russell is a superb dancer who struts his stuff all night long. The two comic sidekicks in this show are Maggie and Bert played by Beth Martin and Jerry Walker. Beth is sassy as Maggie and gets to show off her voice in "Go into your Dance'', "Getting Out of Town", "Lullaby" and "Shuffle Off to Buffalo". Jerry has some great one liners and he gets to kick up his heels in "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" as the newlywed husband while singing a duet with Ashley Kenney. Ashley plays Anytime Annie and is a dynamite dancer and singer who also sings the lead in "Sunny Side to Every Situation". She, Jennifer Cameron as Phyllis and Melissa Sybil as Lorraine, the rich Park Avenue dame, get to tap dance together and have some scene stealing moments as the bubble headed chorines. The lead dancer in the show, Andy Lee is played by Daniel Romard while Dorothy's two suitors are played by Dave McGuire as her rich Southern Sugar Daddy, Abner Dillon and by Richard Allegretto as Pat Denning, her true love and vaudeville partner. These three guys pull off their roles with ease. Playing Pretty Lady's stage manager is Paul Reynolds, the real life husband of Eileen Grace. He even gets a chance to strut his stuff in several of the songs in the show. Kudos to all of the hard working dancers in this show who do an incredible job throughout the entire show. ( I have reviewed three of the dancers in this show quite a few years back, Ian Richardson when he was a student at URI and at Academy Players back from 2001-2004, and Jason Gaffney and Joey Cullinane back in 2003 in "A Chorus Line" in Foxboro. Also saw Joey earlier this season in "Singin' in the Rain". Glad to see these three talented kids still performing after all these years with both Jason and Joey auditioning and living in NYC.) So for a trip back to 1933 and the dynamite songs and dances of that era, be sure to catch ''42nd Street" at Reagle Players in Waltham. You get a Broadway style show right here in MA. Tell them Tony sent you.

"42nd Street" (9 - 18 August)
Waltham High School, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM MA
1 (781) 891-5600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide