Monday, May 18, 2009

Review of "42nd Street" at Goodspeed Opera House

Ah, those dancing feet. Those tap dancing feet. They are just one of the many joys from the Goodspeed Opera House’s slightly uneven production of 42nd Street, now running through July 4th. I’m a sucker for great tap dancing and there is plenty of it on display in this musical comedy fable. Right at the show’s start the curtain rises, stopping midway above the stage, to reveal a gaggle of gorgeous gams hoofing it at breakneck speed. Moments later the curtain finishes its climb as we are introduced to one of the best looking and most talented ensembles I have seen at a Goodspeed production. They are young, energetic, and very eager to please.

42nd Street is the ageless story of a star is born. Young Peggy Sawyer, fresh off the bus from Allentown, PA, manages to make the chorus of the new Julian Marsh directed Broadway musical, Pretty Lady, and by show’s end gets her big break to become an overnight sensation. Kristen Martin is perfect as the naïve, doe-like, youthful Peggy Sawyer. She is attractive, can dance up a storm and has a rapturous voice. Unfortunately, her two male leads are not as well-cast. Austin Miller as juvenile lead, Billy Lawlor, is more of a poseur than actor. He plays Lawlor as a buffoon rather than a good-natured casanova. When he sings or dances he doesn’t connect with the audience which makes for a very distracting performance. James Lloyd Reynolds, as veteran director, Julian Marsh, is ruggedly handsome, but does not give us the impression of someone who has been slugging it out in the Broadway trenches for decades. He seems always in high gear, barking out his lines; there is little subtlety or shading in his portrayal. However, the supporting cast is superb led by Dale Hensley and Dorothy Stanley as the songwriting and acting team of Bert Barry and Maggie Jones. They inject a measured amount of humor and zinging one-liners into the production. Jennifer Foote is also a delight as seasoned showgirl, Ann Reilly.

One of the real gems of 42nd Street is the choreography by Rick Conant. Whether it is the soft shuffle to “Go Into Your Dance” or the high octane Act I finale of “We’re in the Money,” Conant sets up one crowd pleasing number after another. The score by Harry Warren and Al Dubin is a treasure trove of musical theater hits—“You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me,” “We’re in the Money,” “There’s a Sunny Side,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and the title number, “Forty-Second Street.” You could not ask for anything more.

Ray Roderick’s direction keeps the show taut, working well with the other members of the show’s creative team. Besides the bumps in the road with actors Miller and Reynolds, he mounts an efficient and ultimately satisfying production. Special mention should also go to costume designer, David Lawrence, for some whimsical, yet stylish outfits that hark back to the fanciful and extravagance of 1930’s stage and screen musicals.

42nd Street, shuffling along through July 4th at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.

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