BWW Reviews: Toe-Tapping 42ND STREET Closes Ocean State Theatre's 2013-14 Season
The Ocean State Theatre Company closes its first full year of performances on a celebratory note with a staging of the quintessential song-and-dance show 42nd Street. The musical's memorable characters, familiar tunes, and show-stopping tap routines are primed to wrap up OSTC's season with an exclamation point. This production also has personal resonance for Ocean State's artistic director Amiee Turner, who made her Broadway debut in the New York company of 42nd Street.
42nd Street is, at heart, a love letter to the Broadway musical. Young, naïve Peggy Sawyer longs to join Julian Marsh's new show Pretty Lady. Though a bout of nerves makes her too late to formally audition for the famed director, her impromptu dance routine outside a nearby eatery catches Marsh's eye and earns Peggy a place in the chorus. Her star rises even further when Pretty Lady's temperamental leading lady, Dorothy Brock, breaks an ankle in an onstage accident and Peggy, unexpectedly, is selected to fill the top-billed role.
Ocean State's Peggy, Lauren DeFilippo, has a pleasant singing voice and ample opportunity to showcase her talents as a professional and accomplished tap dancer. Though DeFilippo captures Peggy's artless charm and sweet nature, Peggy's innate onstage brilliance (referenced throughout the production by nearly every other character) never fully shines through. The clearest glimpses of that spark and star quality appear during the finale - the New York rehearsals for and opening night of Pretty Lady - but for much of the show, 42nd Street's leading lady fades away, blending in too closely with the rest of the company's chorus girls.
Some of DeFilippo's best scenes come through Peggy's interactions with Pretty Lady's director, Julian - "the King of Broadway" - Marsh, played by Russell Garrett. Garrett and DeFilippo build an endearing rapport and share some of the funniest bits in act two, while his snarky and comically adversarial encounters with Gerrianne Genga's demanding Dorothy Brock are highlights of the first act. Garrett (who performed alongside Turner in the Broadway cast of 42nd Street) does a fine job of balancing Marsh's jaded and world-weary outlook with his gruff-but-genuine concern for his cast, and later, of portraying Marsh's unwavering artistic intensity alongside his rekindled passion for the bright lights of Broadway.
42nd Street's other standout performers include Lauren Gemelli as the charismatic and forthright chorus girl, Annie, and Brandon Haagenson as Pretty Lady's charming tenor in tap shoes, Billy Lawlor. Katie Clark and Dennis Setteducati play Pretty Lady's writers, Maggie Jones and Bert Barry, with an easy-going, good-natured banter, and Clark's winning delivery of Maggie's zinging one-liners makes hers an especially memorable character.
Overall, 42nd Street looks sharp with solid choreography and stagecraft. The cast tap dancing perched on top of giant-sized dimes during "We're in the Money"; a parade of glittering, multi-hued evening gowns in "Dames"; and the playful use of lighted dressing room mirrors in "Sunny Side to Every Situation" work well visually and keep the narrative moving forward.
Still, the unfortunate execution of other artistic choices does stumble the production. Several scenes with minimal props and sets come across as rough and unfinished rather than deliberately spare, and a few costumes appear hastily fabricated as zippers buckle and bulge noticeably in the spotlights. Even the hair pieces yield mixed results; while most are coiffed into fetching 1930s styles, some hair color choices are poorly matched to actors' skin tones or have clearly "wiggy"-looking styles. Also, OSTC's stage hands are visible moving scenery and props at several points during the performance. They should be attired to blend in seamlessly with the cast, but instead these assistants walk in and out of scenes in modern, if nondescript, clothing and with their very twenty-first century headsets and lighted battery packs in full view.
Each and every one of OSTC's cast members gives their best energies and efforts to this production, especially the big song-and-dance routines. Among them, "We're in the Money," "Lullaby of Broadway," and the tap-filled title song "42nd Street" are certain to win enthusiastic audience acclaim.
Performances of 42nd Street run through May 18, 2014 at the Ocean State Theatre. Tickets range from $39-54 and can be purchased online at OceanStateTheatre.org, by phone (401) 921-6800, or at the OSTC box office, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI. Rush tickets are available. Call (401) 921-1777 x112 for information on group discounts.
Pictured: Russell Garrett and Lauren DeFilippo
Photo by Mark Turek