Fill in the blank: “Come and meet those dancing feet, on the avenue I’m taking you to, _____.” If you come up with any answer other than “42nd Street,” the time has come for you to acquaint yourself with “naughty, bawdy, gaudy, sporty” 42nd Street (the musical)—and there’s no better place to do so than at Cabrillo Musical Theatre and no better time than now.

Director/choreographer extraordinaire Jon Engstrom follows his triumphant staging of Fiddler On The Roof at CLOSBC with an equally memorable 42nd Street, and it’s no wonder. Engstrom was a featured dancer and Dance Captain in the original 1980 Broadway production directed and choreographed by musical theater legend Gower Champion.

This is no paint-by-numbers revival of 42nd Street. Engstrom combines his familiarity with the show with an always fresh approach to the material, giving Cabrillo’s production something that many 42nd Streets lack—heart. Under Engstrom’s direction, the actors playing director Julian Marsh, Broadway diva Dorothy Brock, male ingénue Billy Lawlor, and fresh-off-the-bus musical theater hopeful Peggy Sawyer become real people, not the caricatures they can easily turn into, and when Julian tells Peggy that she has just 36 hours to learn 25 pages, 6 songs and 10 dance numbers and thereby “save the show,” Michael G. Hawkins plays it straight, and though we chuckle, we believe him.

Newcomer Cassie Silva plays Peggy, who’s arrived in Manhattan fresh off the bus from Allentown, PA with nothing but a suitcase full of dreams and a whole bunch of talent. Though Billy (Jeffrey Scott Parsons) is immediately taken with Peggy, a (literal) run-in with Julian hardly puts the would-be star in the director’s good graces, nor is Dorothy (Tracy Lore) likely to be charmed by a singer-actress who can actually dance. (Double-threat Dorothy’s “dance talents” are restricted to graceful arm movements while authentic dancers do their complex choreography around her.)

As anyone who’s seen the 1933 Warner Brothers movie musical classic on which the Broadway musical is based knows, a bit of bad luck for Dorothy provides Peggy with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become an overnight Broadway star—if only she can master the role in a non-stop day and a half. No one need doubt the outcome of this prodigious endeavor (this being musical comedy after all), and many if not most in the audience will be able to mouth along with Julian the classic words, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!”

As Julian Marsh, Hawkins has the silver-fox good looks and leading man voice to turn the heart of a girl of any age. The role of Billy gives the charismatic Parsons the flashy song and dance role we’ve been waiting to see him in, and he scores both vocally and as a tip-top tapper. Lore is never anything less than brilliant in whatever role she undertakes, and her Dorothy is far more real, far less cliché than the diva is often played—in addition to showcasing those gorgeous Lore pipes. Silva has everything a 42nd Street Peggy needs—charm, pluck, likeability, a fine voice, and superior dance moves.

Farley Cadena is a scene-stealing delight as songwriter Maggie Jones, who together with bubbly Dance Captain Layne Baker (Anytime Annie) and showman Will Shupe (Bert) sings and dances to “Shuffle Off To Buffalo,” one of the many Harry Warren-Al Dubin songs which have become Broadway standards. (Baker also excels in Annie’s “There’s A Sunny side To Every Situation.”) Hector Guerrero proves himself a master dancer as show-within-a-show choreographer Andy Lee, David Burr is very funny as “Sugar Daddy” Abner Dillon, and John D. LeMay impresses as Dorothy’s love interest Pat Denning. Ronald Rezac and Steven Ladd Jones complete the supporting cast in fine fashion.

If ever there was a musical in which the dance ensemble are as much the stars of the show as the principals, it’s 42nd Street, and what an ensemble Engstrom has assembled here! Cory Bretsch (who also appears as a waiter and covers the role of Billy), Kevin Brown, Jonathan Bryson, Brian Buxton, Robyn Carleton, Ashley Cowl, Alicia Dodgin, Karlee Ferreira, Drew Foronda, Tessa Grady, Dean Hendricks, Patrick Logothetti, Holly Long, Nick Lorenzini, William Loufik, Margot Major, Kristina Miller, Zach Mink, Megan Niles, Erin Perkins, Jonalyn Saxer, Stephanie Simpson, Libby Snyder, Rebecca Steinberg, Veronica Stevens, Jessica Taylor, Johanna Unger, and Alison Woods are proof positive of the size and caliber of Southern California’s young musical theater talent base.

A dance ensemble is only as good as the choreographer they’re working with (and vice versa) and in this 42nd Street, every single musical number is a winner, beginning with the classic opener in which we first see only the tap-dancing legs of the chorus boys and girls. Add to that “Shadow Waltz,” “Getting Out Of Town,” “Dames,” “We’re In The Money,” “Lullaby Of Broadway,” and of course the title song, and you’ve got more show-stopping dance numbers than have probably ever been put in a single Broadway musical.

As always, Cabrillo has assembled some of the finest musicians in town (16 in all) under the sensational musical direction of Steven Applegate. Michael Tachco’s lighting and Jonathan Burke’s sound design are equally fine. Wardrobe supervisor Christine Gibson deserves highest marks for coordinating the hundreds of 30s costumes worn by the cast as does Rick Geyer for his hair/wig designs.

The only downside to this monumental (and monumentally successful) undertaking is that the week after it opens … it closes. With only one weekend remaining in the run, run (don’t walk) to reserve your tickets and meet those dancing feet, on the avenue I’m taking you to, 42nd Street.

CABRILLO MUSIC THEATRE, Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Thousand Oaks.
–Steven Stanley
March 29, 2009
Photos: Ed Krieger

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