Three dozen pairs of “dancing feet” have arrived at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts, which as any Broadway buff will tell you can mean only one thing—42nd Street is in town, exciting news indeed for musical theater aficionados, particularly since the show’s latest national tour is just about as terrifically performed, directed, choreographed, and designed as national tours get.
The SCFTA audience has only just finished applauding this Broadway classic’s “Greatest Hits” overture when the curtain rises just high enough to reveal legs, legs, and more legs tap-dancing as if their Broadway careers depended on it … and the megahit 42nd Street (3486 performances in its original run and another 1524 in its smash 2001-2005 revival) is off to a dynamite start under the expert direction of a man who knows the show like the back of his foot.
Mark Bramble scored a Tony nomination for helming the Broadway revival, and it is this somewhat tweaked version of the 1980 original that Orange County audiences are being treated to more than six months ahead of its 2016 Hollywood stop, so why wait? With Roger Kirk’s Tony-nominated revival costumes looking as gorgeous as they did in 2001 and a brand spanking new scenic design by 2014 Tony winner Beowulf Boritt framing them to perfection, this is 42nd Street at its most crowd-thrilling.
Though many musical theater aficionados would probably insist that 42nd Street is all about the tapping, Bramble makes sure that despite the many deliberate clichés in the book that he and Michael Stewart wrote for it back in 1980, its leading characters come across surprisingly multidimensional.
Famed Broadway director Julian Marsh, diva extraordinaire Dorothy Brock, male ingénue Billy Lawlor, and fresh-off-the-bus musical theater hopeful Peggy Sawyer are far from the caricatures they could easily become in a lesser production, 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,” though we chuckle, we believe him.
Fresh-out-of-high school discovery Caitlin Ehlinger is 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 (Blake Stadnik) is immediately taken with Peggy, a (literal) run-in with Julian (Matthew J. Taylor) does not put the would-be star in the director’s good graces, nor is Dorothy (Katilin Lawrence) 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 in Julian’s Pretty Lady—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!”
42nd Street marks leading man Taylor’s return to the Segerstrom just seven months after starring as Sky Masterson in Guys And Dolls, and though Julian Marsh is usually cast a decade or two older, Taylor aces the part with pizzazz, singing in a rich, resonant baritone and uttering one showbiz cliché after another with such absolute sincerity that you have no doubt at all that he means every word that leaves his mouth.
As for Dorothy, though the part normally goes to an actress twice her age, the fabulous Lawrence has the Broadway diva down pat, from her deliciously affected speech patterns (de rigueur in the 1930s) to her vocal command of every Dorothy ditty, including the revival-added “I Only Have Eyes For You,” which most regional Dorothys never get the chance to sing.
Completing the trio of 42nd Street leads is the winsomely winning Ehlinger, who like a real-life Peggy Sawyer proves that dreams of stardom do indeed come true virtually overnight. (Check out the youtube clip of Ehlinger as Roxie in her Houston high school production of Chicago just seven months ago and you’ll see what I mean.) Not only is Ehlinger utterly beguiling in the role, her singing and tapping foretell great things ahead for the just turned 19-year-old.
Supporting this trifecta is an all-around sensational featured cast, beginning with Penn State Class Of 2013 grad Stadnik, who gives Billy the perfect blend of boyish looks and song-and-dance panache. (That Stadnik has been legally blind since the age of seven makes his work here even more ooh-and-aah-worthy.)
Britte Steele is the next best thing to Ethel Merman as songwriter Maggie Jones, who together with vivacious Natalia Lepore Hagan (Anytime Annie) and showman-tastic Steven Bidwell (Bert Barry) makes “Shuffle Off To Buffalo,” one of the many Harry Warren-Al Dubin songs which have become Broadway standards, an 11th-hour treat. Hagan is terrific too in “There’s A Sunny side To Every Situation,” and Annie sidekicks Phyllis, Lorraine, and Diane are brought to engaging life by Mallory Nolting, Vanessa Mitchell, and Sarah Fagan.
Lamont Brown proves himself a master dancer as show-within-a-show choreographer Andy Lee, Mark Fishback makes for a funny/folksy “Sugar Daddy” Abner Dillon, and Cal State Fullerton grad DJ Canaday couldn’t be better as Dorothy’s good-guy love interest Pat Denning, with Rob Ouellette (as Pretty Lady accompanist Oscar), Carlos Morales (Mac, Thug, Doctor), and Matthew Alexander (Thug) completing the cast of featured players with verve.
And then there are those dancing feet, without whom even the best lead-performed 42nd Street will fizzle, and thanks to whom this one positively sizzles, so much so that it would be criminal not to mention each and every one of them by name.
Tappers don’t get any more phenomenal (or indefatigable) than Matthew Alexander, Emily Blake Anderson, Brittany Bigelow, Allison Blanchard, Molly Jean Blodgett, Taylore Burke, Mitchell Canfield, Joel Chambers, Kahlia Davis, Tricia DeSario, Fagan, Lucia Foster, Kelly Gleason, Mission Viejo’s very own Patrick Heffernan, Tommy Joscelyn, Brady Miller, Mitchell, Mandy Modic, Georgina Moore, Courtney Moran, Jocelyn Moss, Alicia Newcom, Nolting, and Michael Persson. (Co-dance captains Stephanie Brooks and Tanner Outly are poised to “swing” into any of the above’s ensemble tracks at a moment’s notice.)
Every single musical number in this 42nd Street is a winner as choreographed by three-time Tony nominee Randy Skinner, beginning with the classic show opener. Add to that the now iconic “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. (Of course it doesn’t hurt that they are being performed to a whole bunch of Broadway standards and backed by music director J. Michael Duff and a first-rate pit orchestra.)
Lit to brilliant perfection by Tony winner Ken Billington, 42nd Street 2015 brings back the 2001 revival’s ace sound designer Peter Fitzgerald, with Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas’s hair, wig, and makeup design completing a Grade A production design.
Kelli Barclay is associate choreographer and Adam Kidd is assistant director. Candace Hemphill is company manager. Donovan Dolan is production stage manager.
I’ve seen at least half-a-dozen productions of 42nd Street, and I can’t recall a single one of them topping the National Tour spending this week and next in Costa Mesa. You couldn’t ask for a finer introduction (or return visit) to this legendary musical comedy than the one now playing at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
November 10, 2105
Photos: Chris Bennion