Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Welcome back to 1933 and the wonderful world of tapping feet in “42nd Street” at North Shore Music Theatre with a huge cast of 30 performers. It is loosely based on the 1933 movie musical with the same name which starred Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. The stage musical version opened on August 25, 1980 and ran until January 8, 1989, won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It starred Jerry Orbach as Julian Marsh and Tammy Grimes as Dorothy Brock and I was fortunate enough to catch that musical back in 1980. “42nd Street” is the tale of up and coming chorus girl, Peggy Sawyer who arrives in New York seeking a career on Broadway.
It focuses on the efforts of famed dictatorial Great White Way director Julian Marsh to mount a successful stage production of “Pretty Lady”, a musical extravaganza at the height of the Great Depression. Unfortunately for Peggy, she misses the audition for the show but suave tenor, Billy Lawlor, is attracted to her and gets her to sing with him to get noticed by Julian Marsh who puts her in the show after she accidentally knocks him over like a lineman. During an out of town tryout in Philadelphia, Peggy accidentally runs into Dorothy Brock, the prima donna leading lady causing her to fall and break her ankle. Julian fires Peggy at the end of Act 1 but during the huge “Lullaby of Broadway” number in Act 2 convinces Peggy to return to the show and thereby becomes a bona fide star. Director/choreographer Kelly Barclay who recreates and adapts original choreographer, Randy Skinner’s dances and musical director Milton Granger, infuse this majestic musical with the energy and expertise needed for this enormous musical dance extravaganza to become a masterpiece of musical theatre. The unbelievable tap dancing and vocal prowess of this huge cast leads the audience to cheer some of the numbers during the show and rewards it with a spontaneous standing ovation at the close of it.
Kelly cast all these roles splendidly and brings out the melodramatic moments excellently. Her choreography is breathtaking with many different dance styles include tap, cakewalk, ballet and a June Taylor type dance for the girls to “Keep Young and Beautiful” with video of their dance and a phenomenal dance for Peggy and the boys to “With Plenty of Money and You” which gives Peggy a solo spot to prove how much of a star she has become in “Pretty Lady” with everyone executing the dance steps in perfect unison. Milton not only conducts a superb 11 piece orchestra while playing lead keyboards but makes this gorgeous 1930’s music soar. The incredible set pieces are by Kyle Dixon while the gorgeous 1930’s original costumes are by Randy Skinner. Gorgeous blonde Jessica Wockenfuss shines as Peggy Sawyer. This girl is not only beautiful but has a terrific singing voice and incredible dancing prowess, too. Jessica infuses this character with the necessary charm and naive behavior to pull off this role. She does an excellent job in the Charleston dance during “Young and Healthy” with Billy and “Go Into Your Dance” group number where she dances better than the other three gals. Jessica is hilarious in the rehearsal scenes with Julian where he kisses her several times to get her to emote properly on how grand it is. Her best song and dance number is “With Plenty of Money and Eye” where she transforms into a strong and vibrant leading lady in the show within a show. It mesmerizes the audience completely. Her cakewalk with Julian in “Lullaby of Broadway” is brilliant and the “42nd Street” finale number is outstanding. Brava to this young actress on her phenomenal performance in this enormous role. Broadway star Burke Moses is also fabulous as the hard ass director, Julian who gives Peggy the confidence she needs to play the lead. He created the role of Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway and this tall, dark and handsome star commands the stage in this role. Burke has the needed brassiness when he forces Peggy to learn the leading role. He plays it to the hilt when he gives Peggy an acting lesson on how it feels to be kissed by a man which makes her melt in his arms which wins many laughs. His powerful baritone voice sells “Lullaby of Broadway” and is heard again in “42nd Street” closing number which soars off the charts.
Playing the diva bitch role spectacularly is Tari Kelly as Dorothy. Her high brow manner is hilarious from start to finish and the character finally learns to give into true love before the show ends and not be a gold digger anymore. Tari rants and raves as Dorothy wanting to be treated as the star, almost like a Cruella DeVille of the 1930’s. Her strong voice is heard in “Shadow Waltz”, where the cast dances around her, “You’re Getting to be A Habit with Me” with Billy and “A Quarter to Nine” with Peggy. Tari’s best song is “I Only Have Eyes for You” with its dramatic punch and power. One of the best voices and dancers in the cast is Jacob ben Widmar as Billy. His strong tenor voice soars up to a high B in “Dames” where the girls enter in the most glamorous gowns ever, the “Young and Healthy” duet with Jessica and the high tenor part of “Lullaby” as well as stopping the show with the chorus in “We’re in the Money” where they dance on huge mercury dimes and in the finale where he dances a sailor with Jessica.
Two brilliant and outstanding comic performers are David Coffee and Tina Johnson as Bert and Maggie. They win sustained laughter all night long at their one liners and clever antics. David who has played Scrooge for the past 27 years, tackles this role and delivers the goods once again with his comic prowess. He and Tina have a dynamite duet with “Keep Young and Beautiful” and David also sings “Getting Out of Town” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” while clad in funny pajamas. The chorus girls scream in terror when he opens the train berth cars looking for Anytime Annie. Tina who I last reviewed in “Sister Act” is a hoot once again as tender hearted, Maggie. She sings “Go Into Your Dance”, “Getting to Be a Habit”, “Lullaby” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”, creating a character to be remembered from start to finish. Another scene stealer is pretty blonde, Elise Kinnon who is clad in a red wig as Anytime Annie. She is a dynamite dancer and singer who leads the chorus in “We’re in the Money” and “Sunny Side to Every Situation.” Another phenomenal dancer is Dan Lusardi who plays Andy Lee, the choreographer of “Pretty Lady” who leads the cast in some magnificent tap dancing numbers. Kudos to the entire cast and crew on creating a magnificent musical entertainment that should not be missed. So for a trip back to the carefree days of the 1930’s, be sure to catch Billy Hanney’s “42nd Street” at North Shore Music Theatre before they dance their way out of town for good.
42ND STREET (31 October to 12 November)
North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Street, Beverly, MA
1(978)232-7200 or www.nsmt.org