Updated: Jul 16
Julian Marsh: “You're gonna dance until your feet fall off, till you're not able to stand up any longer, but five weeks from now, we're going to have a show!”
There's nothing like precision tap-dancing to turn an Orange County audience into a lab full of case studies for Dr. Pavlov. Throw us a big bunch of twinkly youngsters doing the same scuffle step, paddle and roll at the same moment, and we're grinning and beating our flippers together like seals at feeding time. It's a conditioned reflex as old as the first chorus line.
And that high-wattage smile doesn't fade when the curtain rises just a foot or so to reveal a stage full of legs tapping to beat the band. Is it those dancing feet, those bright costumes, or that old Broadway beat that dazzles the audience most in the first scene of Rose Center Theater’s production of “42nd Street?” In the end, it doesn’t really matter, because they blend into one terrific opening number, which turns out to be a harbinger of an altogether enjoyable show. Those anthems by the immortal team of Harry Warren and Al Dubin remain among the most infectious songs ever written about Manhattan, as energetic, tough-hearted and self-romanticizing as our own Southern California.
One of showbusiness's most classic and beloved tales, “42nd Street” tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a talented young performer with stars in her eyes who gets her big break on Broadway. Peggy arrives in New York City from her hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania, armed with her tap shoes, her lucky yellow scarf and big dreams. Peggy’s talent catches the eye of legendary Broadway director Julian Marsh (Chris Caputo), who, after some doing, gives her a spot in the chorus of “Pretty Lady,” his newest show. “Pretty Lady” stars Dorothy Brock, the classic Broadway diva, who takes an instant dislike to the new girl in the cast. When Dorothy is injured during the show’s previews, "Pretty Lady" looks like it will have to close, unless a new girl talented enough to lead the show can be found — someone like Peggy Sawyer!
The director/music director, Tim Nelson, delivers not only a stylish show, but one that’s intimate and involving — no easy task in a musical crowning with paean classics like “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and of course that catchy title song. His stage will carry you straight to “that glittering gulch” where tough-guy directors drill fresh-faced chorines and the underworld meets the elite, all the while putting on a happy-go-lucky show in the midst of bread lines, unemployment and crashed stocks.
Running through July 24th, “42nd Street” has a familiar plot — as much from the 1933 Busby Berkeley film as the 1980 Broadway adaptation — borrowing elements from other backstage stories with the same kind of rivalry between hard-edged, seasoned performers and dewy-eyed newcomers. I’m talking classic plot lines — diva breaks ankle; inexperienced young performer soars to Broadway stardom, along with the requisite show-within-a-show (in this case, "Pretty Lady").
The most famous line in “42nd Street” is “You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star.” It is delivered with commanding presence and knowing bluster by Mr. Caputo in his sturdy performance as acclaimed director Julian Marsh. Though the authors didn’t connect the dots among all the characters and relationships, they did give shadings to the ailing Julian. He may be a nurturing director, but he’s also dictatorial, and colludes with thugs when he has to, to quash anyone who stands in his way. With 36 hours to prepare an actress for her new part, he predicts, “By tomorrow night I’ll either have a live leading lady or a dead chorus girl.”
In a featured role, Kristen Henry’s mother-hen songwriter and producer, Maggie Jones, as one of the been-around-the-block authors of “Pretty Lady,” has the easy sass that allows her to deliver a line like, “You’re a looker, you chirp like a bird, and you’re pretty hot stuff in the steps department too,” without sounding utterly ridiculous. And, playing oblivious tycoon sugar daddy Abner Dillon, who funds the show for the sake of Dorothy, JD Rinde exudes a kindly gruffness that nicely fills out his deep south moneybags character.
But while the musical centers on the star-struck, toothy eagerness of a chorus girl dreaming of her big break, we can’t help loving über-diva Dorothy Brock with her broken ankle, broken heart, and volatile ego. Though her role is more or less that of a hard-bitten villain, Barbara Hinrichsen is touching as the ill-fated prima donna. Ms. Hinrichsen’s smoky vocals was especially tantalizing in “About a Quarter to Nine,” as she shows her young replacement how to make an audience listen to a song.
Amanda Jean plays ingenue Peggy Sawyer with charming gravitas — and a lightning pair of tapping feet. She’s a graceful center for a compelling ensemble that includes Evan Martorana as the energetic dance director Andy Lee, and Dannielle Green as the wisecracking chorine, “Anytime Annie.” Mark Wickham gently underplays his role as Pat Denning, Dorothy’s true love, and Trevin Stephenson, with loads of élan, has way too much fun playing the young tenor, Billy Lawlor, who befriends Peggy and gives her career a push. Mr. Stephensen soars in several of the numbers, including "Young and Healthy," and "Dames."
Other notable mentions are Long Cao as Oscar, Cat Valentine as Gladys, Randall J. Goddard as Bert Berry, Jillian Matthews as Phyllis, Tiona Bland as Diane, Erik Duane as Mac, Kylie Matthews as Lorraine and Gemma Pedersen as Ethel.
Chris Caputo’s meticulous sets serve the action well. And the show gets an extra spark from Carole Zelinger’s witty ice-cream colored shirtwaist dresses with their slim-belted waistlines and hemlines below the knee as well as Cliff Senior’s permed, period wigs, both capturing the “hip hooray and bally hoo” of old Broadway.
Set during the depression, this is the granddaddy of backstage musicals in which the understudy finally gets a chance to shine. It may seem a little cliché now, but in 1933 this was hot stuff. All that behind-the-scenes atmosphere feels very genuine, and the script is more acerbic than you might expect.
With a quick pace, lighthearted tone, and a keen eye for stunning visuals, Director Nelson’s work is commendable. The musical, however, is fundamentally a dance show, and Jenn Matthews and Diane Makas’ vibrant choreography is what keeps this 42nd Street moving along. To put it quite simply, there’s something irresistible about a tap show.
ROSE CENTER THEATER PRESENTS – “42ND STREET,” AN RCT MUSICAL PRODUCTION. Based on the 1932 novel by Bradfor Ropes and the subsequent 1933 Hollywood film adaptation; Book by MICHAEL STEWART & MARK BRAMBLE; Music by HARRY WARREN & JOHNNY MERCER; Lyrics by AL DUBIN; Original Producer DAVID MERRICK; Directed and Musically Directed by TIM NELSON; Scenic Design/Lighting Design/Projection Design/Technical Director CHRIS CAPUTO; Costume Design by CAROLE ZELINGER; Choreography by JENN MATTHEWS & DIANE MAKAS; Wigs by CLIFF SENIOR; Sound by TIM NELSON & VINCENT ANICETO; Production Stage Manager ROBBYNN GREEN.
STARRING: CHRIS CAPUTO, BARBARA HINRICHSEN, AMANDA JEAN, TREVIN STEPHENSON, EVAN MARTORANA, KRISTIN HENRY AND RANDALL J. GODDARD. FEATURING: DANNIELLE GREEN, KYLIE MATTHEWS, JILLIAN MATTHEWS, MARK WICKHAM, JD RINDE, LONG CAO, ERIK DUANE AND OLIVIA LEYVA. WITH: CHERIE ANICETO, LILY ANICETO, SANDRA ANICETO, LAUREN BELT, TIONA BLAND, TAVEN BLANKE, LINDSAY BRETT, LAUREL BROOKHYSER, VICTORIA CAPOBIANCO, KYLIE CHRISTENSEN, HAILEY COLLINS, CONNOR DAPKUS, ELLA DE PREZ, CHERYL DEKEYSER, ERICA DUANE, COLIN EATON, HONORIA FELTON, ROBBYNN GREEN, KELLI GRIFFIN, CHLOE HUBBARD, ANABEL IRWIN, DANIEL JUSTIN, AMANDA MACDONALD, LANDON MARIANO, SAVANNA MATTHEWS, CARLIE MCCLEARY, AVA MELGOZA, CARMELA MIARS, JENNA LYN MINOR, JOSHUA OUTMAN, GEMMA PEDERSEN, BRETT POPIEL, DARIEN RORICK, EMILY SALO, ALYSIA SMITH, CAT VALENTINE.
42nd STREET will run through Sunday, July 24th; Running time approximately 2 hours, 20 minutes; Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30PM and Sundays at 2:00PM. Tickets are $19-40 and can be purchased by visiting https://www.rosecentertheater.com/events
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Ryan Salazar