“What was that word you just said? Allentown? I'm offering you the chance to star in the biggest musical Broadway's seen in twenty years and you say… Allentown?”
FEBRUARY 11TH—LONG BEACH
Shakespeare wrote that all the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. In retrospect, he might have added that most of those players also want to be stars.
Yes, I’m talking about “42nd Street,” the musical extravaganza of Broadway myths and legends with songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin and narrative by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble that premiered in 1980—but was firmly rooted before that in the aesthetic and gestalt of the Warner Brothers 1933 movie, starring Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers. The story is about young Peggy Sawyer, a toe-tappin’ newbie from Allentown, Pennsylvania, who wanted nothing more than to star in a musical comedy directed by the patriarchal Julian Marsh, a surrogate daddy for every girl on the line, all dreaming their Broadway dreams and hoping the glittering gulch doesn’t rip out their hearts.
The show was a hit then, and even more so now as it plays as Musical Theatre West’s latest sweeping installment at Long Beach’s Carpenter Performing Arts Center. Filled with sparkling costumes and finger-snapping anthems, MTW’s dazzlingly opulent “42nd Street” (directed by dynamic TV actress and Broadway star Cynthia Ferrer, who you may remember helmed other recent MTW productions like “9-5” and “Damn Yankees”) is electrifying audiences for a full two weeks, running February 9th through February 25th.
Those anthems, by the immortal team of Warren and Dubin, remain among the most infectious songs ever written about Manhattan, as energetic, tough-hearted and self-romanticizing as the island itself. No sooner does the pit orchestra strike up the overture than you feel yourself grinning.
And that smile doesn't fade at all when a half-raised curtain opens the show, revealing sleek legs and tapping feet that promise a naughty, gaudy, bawdy evening. It's a marvelous sight gag, a literal-minded rendering of the invitation of the show's title song: ''Come and meet those dancing feet.''
When the musical hit Broadway back in 1980, it was presented as a fanciful world on the Great White Way that never was, a world where actors magnanimously promote co-stars and leading ladies who genuinely wish their rivals well. This fanciful quality may seem a bit dubious even for musical comedy, but what the show had then, and still has in ample abundance, is tasty theatrical icing—a nonstop parade of Harry Warren/Al Dubin songs and clever, inventive choreography originally created by Gower Champion and Randy Skinner, and has now been passed down for this production to the incredible Cheryl Baxter, who is quite a legend herself, and was mentored by an array of Hollywood’s greatest dancers, such as Gene Kelly, Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis Jr., and Donald O’Connor.
Musically directed by Wilkie Ferguson, Musical Theatre West pulls out all the stops with this gorgeous, glittering production, never missing a beat with familiar vintage songs, spectacular tap routines and amazing voices, including old favorites like, “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway” and the signature song, “42nd Street.”
Peggy Sawyer (Emma Nossal) is the wide-eyed innocent wannabe star fresh off the bus from Allentown, Pennsylvania. She’s in New York to follow her dreams at a time when money and employment were hard to come by. The plot follows a group of actors premiering their show “Pretty Lady,” which may be their last hope in surviving a bleak future. Back then, 32 bucks a week was nothing to sneeze at.
This desperation is personified in Peggy, pin-up pretty with no rough edges, and trying not only to break into the tough new industry of show business but also trying to find her place in a very indifferent world. Therein, it becomes the story of every fragile artist from every fraught era. For, lest we forget, they all were fraught.
Fortunately for Peggy, she is a second-to-none tap dancer, so manages to get a coveted chorus girl slot in the show. Ms. Nossal possesses a delightfully gifted voice, fabulous footwork and a feisty, perky personality, giving her Peggy Sawyer a hint of modern attitude in this Depression-era story. Feisty enough in fact for Billy Lawlor (Quintan Craig), the show’s leading tenor, to notice her and exude a tremendous amount of effort to score a feather in his cap (“Young and Healthy”).
Mr. Craig’s Billy does have engaging charisma, ulterior motives aside, playing what show writer Maggie Jones (a spirited Bree Murphy) defines as “a tenor with bass ideas,” and he can definitely display “those dancing feet” nimbly on the uplifting “Dames” and “We’re in the Money.”
Legendary Broadway Director Julian Marsh (Robert Mammana), tells his jocular and always upbeat head writers Bert (Jamie Torcellini) and Ms. Murphy’s Maggie he’s worried about temperamental prima donna Dorothy Brock (April Nixon, playing with verve and pompous flair), the leading lady. Her last hit was ten years earlier, but her "sugar daddy," Texan Abner Dillon (Kevin Carolan), is backing the new show financially.
Swathed in Roger Kirk’s sumptuous designs that suggest Erte art deco sculptures, she indulges in amusingly cutting confrontations with Julian. “Shadow Waltz,” which spotlights Dorothy’s comedically clumsy dance routine in a large back-lighted scrim projection, is a visual treat, and her rendering of “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” packs an old trouper’s punch and authority. And Ms. Nixon’s climactic duet with Ms. Nossal in “About a Quarter to Nine” successfully exonerates Dorothy’s previous behavior.
Among the outstanding supporting players: Andy Lee is played by Phillip Attmore, the dance director in the show. Mac (Ricky Bulda) is the stage manager. And Peggy’s chorus girlfriends include Phyllis (Maggie Ek), Lorraine (April Lovejoy), and “Anytime” Annie (Jane Papageorge).
Making Julian the unexpected romantic lead is Stewart and Bramble’s brightest inspiration. Under their ingenuity, Julian becomes the one character in the story who convincingly changes and grows under pressure. Countering his gruff manner is his euphonious singing with a timbre that melts hearts and make angels weep, and his deep-down vulnerability.
The most famous scene of “42nd Street” involves Julian rushing to the station and trying to tempt the fired-by-mistake Peggy to come back to the show, understand that her Allentown means death in anonymity and turn herself into a star. She’s supposed to be reluctant for a second, but then the glamour of Broadway takes over. She goes back. It’s what she does. Jobs are at stake. But there is always a cost, as paid by generations of singers and dancers who work on and around “The Deuce” (and, you know how the lure of Broadway can keep a wannabe star awake at night).
“42nd Street” by Musical Theatre West @ Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Based on the Novel by Bradford Ropes and the Motion Picture, “42nd Street,” Distributed by Warner Brothers. Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble; Music by Harry Warren; Lyrics by Al Dubin; Direction by Cynthia Ferrer; Music Direction by Wilkie Ferguson; Choreography by Cheryl Baxter; Scenic Design by Bruce Brockman; Lighting Design by Paul Black; Sound Design by Julie Ferrin; Properties Design by Melanie Cavaness & Gretchen Morales; Costume Design by Debbie Roberts; Wig Design by Anthony Gagliardi; Stage Managed by Brigham Johnson.
CAST: Emma Nossal - Peggy Sawyer; Robert Mammana - Julian Marsh; April Nixon - Dorothy Brock; Jane Papageorge - Annie Reilly; Quintan Craig - Billy Lawlor; Phillip Attmore - Andy Lee; Jamie Torcellini - Bert Barry; Bree Murphy - Maggie Jones; Kevin Carolan - Abner Dillon; Stephen Bishop - Pat Denning; Ricky Bulda - Mac/Doc/Thug; Maggie Ek – Phyllis; April Lovejoy – Lorraine; Ryan Cody - Ensemble/Dance Captain; Erin Dubreuil - Ensemble ; Jonathan Blake Flemings – Ensemble; John Paul Batista - Ensemble Evan Martorana – Ensemble; Cole Sisser – Ensemble; Kurt Kemper – Ensemble; Marisa Moenho – Ensemble; Missy Marion – Ensemble; Helen Tait – Ensemble; Johnisa Breault – Ensemble; Ellie Cook – Ensemble; Grace Simmons – Ensemble; Noelle Roth – Ensemble.
Musical Theatre West's production of 42nd Street will have a special ASL-interpreted performance on Friday, February 16. Tickets start at $20 and are available for purchase by phone at 562-856-1999 or online at https://musical.org/ Student rush tickets for $15 are available at the Box Office one hour prior to showtime, with a valid student ID. Running time approximately 2 Hours and 30 Minutes with intermission | Rated PG.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Take Creative