Everyone loves a rags-to-riches story. When that story is 42nd Street: The Song-and-Dance Fable of Broadway, a tale of the lights of Broadway coming to light again after the worst depression this country has ever experienced, it earns the reputation of quintessential heartwarming musical. It also earned two 1981 Tony Awards® — for Best Musical and Best Choreography — and another two Tonys when the show was revived on Broadway in 2001.
This week, a sparkling new production of 42nd Street, produced by Troika Entertainment and directed by Mark Bramble, is lighting up the stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center as part of DPAC‘s SunTrust Broadway Series. But the American dream story that provides the show’s backbone remains the same.
With songs as recognizable as “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “We’re in the Money” and a company full of world-class tap dancers, this production sparkles like a 10-carat diamond. The setting takes full advantage of the Busby Berkeley/ Zeigfeld Follies tradition, opening with the stage framed like a 1920s Broadway theater, complete with red velvet curtain. The Tony Award-winning design team includes scenic designs by Beowulf Boritt, costumes by Roger Kirk, lighting by Ken Billington, and sound by Peter Fitzgerald.
Busby Berkeley, who created the 1933 movie about the rise of starstruck Peggy Sawyer (played by relative newcomer Caitlin Ehlinger) from Allentown, PA ingénue to Broadway star, was known for creating over-the-top musicals. His dancing/singing production numbers utilized enough gusto and glitz to enthrall an audience that had been brought to its knees by a long and devastating battle with a worldwide economic slump. Though he was often critiqued for his objectification of women, his talent for entertaining his fans surpassed those concerns.
New York City is as much a character in this show as the stars battling to become a light along the Great White Way. The city is the background for chit-chat aboutPretty Lady, the new show by director Julian Marsh (Matthew J. Taylor); and when that red curtain rises, it reveals tap-dancing legs encased in multicolored tap shoes. It’s a rousing opening that showcases April 28, 1933 and a Broadway getting back on its feet after the crash. Pretty Lady choreographer Andy Lee (Lamont Brown), and writers Maggie Jones (Britte Steele) and Bert Barry (Steven Bidwell) are preparing a chorus of singers and dancers for their audition with Marsh when Peggy rushes in, late for the audition, and slams directly into Marsh himself.
The sparks between them are obvious immediately, and part of that chemistry has to do with Caitlin Ehlinger herself. Innocence and self-confidence come naturally to the talented newcomer. Ehlinger has a voice the resonates with 1930s guile and the ability to out-dance just about everyone on the stage, and it’s obvious that her rise to fame will be equivalent to that of her Peggy Sawyer character. On the other hand, Matt Taylor’s Marsh is strong and passionate; and when he sings “42nd Street” toward the end of the show, his musicality and way of making the song his own brings down the house.
The star that Pretty Lady director Julian Marsh has chosen for his show is Dorothy Brock (Kaitlin Lawrence), a blond diva whose personal life interferes with her acting/singing. Though she is touted as the star upon Marsh’s musical will thrive, her singing and dancing dim when compared with the talents of Ehlinger. There are times when Lawrence is onstage when one wonders whether she is committed to the role. Her voice is fairly weak and her inability to emote are the only flaws in this production. When she breaks her leg and is unable to go on, no one mourns, including the audience.
With a voice like Broadway veteran the late Ethel Merman, Britte Steele belts out numbers such as “Shadow Waltz,” “Go Into Your Dance,” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.” The grit and growl that she puts into her songs provides the substance and humor that make Maggie a well-rounded Broadway matron who has seen it all, yet still has the gumption to get into the thick of things to pass along her hard-earned advice to the new chorus girls.
Though cast in secondary roles, Lamont Brown (who plays Pretty Lady choreographer Andy Lee), Blake Stadnik (who plays Billy Lawlor), Mallory Nolting (who plays Phyllis), and D.J. Canady (who plays Pat Denning) also make the most of their moments in the spotlight. Brown’s role as the choreographer is integral to the opening act and continues to be the glue that holds together the production of Pretty Lady, whipping the dancers and singers into shape — and even taking on a role in major production numbers himself. Nolting’s Phyllis and Canaday’s Denning both have strong voices and acting skills that make them shine just a little brighter than their co-stars.
But when all is said and done, the dancers are the true stars of this production, with their knife-sharp kicks and precision turns and taps. Original Broadway director and choreographer Gower Champion’s amazing choreography stands the test of time, even though he never had the opportunity to see his production on Broadway, having died the afternoon of opening night. Plus, the musical staging and new choreography by 2001 Broadway revival and tour choreographer Randy Skinner thrill DPAC audiences.
Sure to make stars of its male and female leads — the effervescent Caitlin Ehlinger and the smooth crooner Taylor — the show is fun, fast-paced, brilliantly danced, and amazingly staged. DPAC was full on opening night, and this reviewer has no doubt that seats will be at a premium for the rest of 42nd Street’s run. Come and meet those dancing feet before 42nd Street taps on to its next destination. Seats are on sale for six shows, tonight through May 8th.
SECOND OPINION: May 5th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/05/42nd-street-at-dpac-enthralls-with-its-massive-musical-numbers/; May 4th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-42ND-STREET-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20160504; May 4th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/review-a-fun-and-bright-nd-street-musical/article_d3ddc394-121a-11e6-9615-2f44f2204b1b.html and April 29th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/lullaby-of-broadway-nd-street-star-tapping-since-childhood/article_e418ae84-0cd6-11e6-ad19-678e118c095e.html (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); May 4th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Logan A. White for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/42nd-street-wows/ and April 30th preview by Logan A. White for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/2nd-street-star-destined-to-shine-show-comes-to-dpac-next-week/; and April 30th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article74734612.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the May 4th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/05/42nd-street-the-song-and-dance-fable-of-broadway-will-play-dpac-on-may-3-8/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents 42ND STREET at 7:30 p.m. May 5, 8 p.m. May 6, 2 and 8 p.m. May 7, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. May 8 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $30-$145. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/803389.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
SHOW: http://www.DPACnc.com/events/detail/42nd-street and https://www.facebook.com/events/1691146487770123/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gz_KFPHWl4.
TOUR: http://www.42ndstmusical.com/, https://www.facebook.com/42ndStmusical, and https://twitter.com/42ndStreetTour.
2015-16 SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.DPACnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2015-16.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.DPACnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, May 7th, performance.
Bradford Ropes (novelist, 1905-66): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0740622/ (Internet Movie Database) and http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/11154 (Internet Broadway Database).
42nd Street (1933 film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024034/ (Internet Movie Database), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/616/42nd-Street/ (Turner Classic Movies), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/42nd_Street_%28film%29 (Wikipedia).
42nd Street: The Song-and-Dance Fable of Broadway (1980 Broadway and 1984 West End musical): http://www.42ndstmusical.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/1027 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/42nd_Street_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://www.acu.edu/academics/cas/theatre/documents/42nd-street-study-guide.pdf (Abilene Christian University).
Harry Warren (music): http://www.42ndstmusical.com/creators_bios/harry.php (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/12549 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Warren (Wikipedia).
Al Dubin (lyrics): http://www.42ndstmusical.com/creators_bios/harry.php (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/12855 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Dubin (Wikipedia).
Michael Stewart (book): http://www.42ndstmusical.com/creators_bios/michael%201.php (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/7748 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Stewart_%28playwright%29 (Wikipedia).
Mark Bramble (book and director): http://www.42ndstmusical.com/creators_bios/mark.php (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/7548 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Bramble (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.