BWW Review: Reagle Music Theatre's 42nd STREET: The Show Must Go On!
Music by Harry Warren, Lyrics by Al Dubin, Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, based on the novel by Bradford Ropes; Original Direction and Choreography by Gower Champion, Originally Produced on Broadway by David Merrick; Producing Artistic Director, Robert J. Eagle; Original Scenic Design, Robin Wagner; Original Costume Design, Theoni V. Aldredge; Lighting Design, David Wilson; Conductor, Jeffrey Leonard; Wardrobe Supervisor, Amelia Fitch; Production Stage Manager, Nicky Carbone; Production Manager, Lori E. Baruch; Music Director, Dan Rodriguez; Original Choreography Reproduced by Eileen Grace and Susan M. Chebookjian; Directed by Eileen Grace
CAST: Rachel York, Rich Allegretto, Mara Cecilia, Beth Martin Pierce, Harold "Jerry" Walker, Jack F. Agnew, Katie Scarlett Brunson, Charley Borden, Paul Reynolds; Ensemble: Anelise Allen, Anya Axel, Bernie Baldassaro, Jessica Bondar, Louis Brogna, Anna Chensny, Patrick Clark, Emma Clinch, Allyson Duarte, John Eldridge, Leo Galletto, Taavon Gamble, Natalie Hall, Olivia Hytha, Nicolette Lebrun, Helen Lee, AJ Manuel Lucero, Kevin PatRick Martin, Kelly McCue, Conor Meehan, Daniel Moore, Heather Morgan, Danielle Naugler, Victoria Newhuis, Brad Foster Reinking, Julia Shapiro, Connor Shea, Ansley Speares, Brianna Webb, Suzi Weisberg
Performances through August 13 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA; Box Office 781-891-5600 or www.reaglemusictheatre.com
The iconic show-biz musical 42nd Street follows a starry-eyed kid from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to Times Square in Manhattan as she pursues her dream of making it on Broadway. After she tap dances her way onto the chorus line of a new, blockbuster musical, her good fortune and that of all the other kids in the show is threatened when the star diva goes down with a broken ankle during the out-of-town tryout. Unless the crusty producer can find someone to take over the role and be ready to open on Broadway in 36 hours, Pretty Lady will be forced to close before the curtain ever goes up.
If that's not enough drama for you, the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston season-ending production of 42nd Street faced an eerily parallel situation in real life when top-billed Tom Wopat was arrested on a warrant by the Waltham police on Wednesday evening, August 2, as he was leaving rehearsal at the high school. With two preview performances scheduled for Thursday and the press opening Friday night, the production was in jeopardy without its leading man. Executive Producer Robert Eagle announced on the Reagle Facebook page that the shows would go on with cast member and regional theater veteran Rich Allegretto stepping into the role of producer Julian Marsh in place of Wopat.
By all accounts, Allegretto took the preview audiences captive on Thursday and, by the time of the official opener on Friday, he had command of the role and blended seamlessly with the rest of the cast. Headliner Rachel York (Drama Desk Award Winner, two-time IRNE Award winner), as the injured diva Dorothy Brock, brings her sparkling star quality and is the tide that lifts all boats in this buoyant production directed by three-time IRNE Award winner Eileen Grace. In addition to wearing the director's hat, Grace and co-choreographer Susan M. Chebookjian reproduced Gower Champion's original choreography and their labors have reaped miraculous feats as performed by more than two dozen pairs of dancing feet in the ensemble.
As good as the character acting is by the likes of Beth Martin Pierce (Maggie Jones), Jack F. Agnew (Abner Dillon), and last-minute put-in (for Allegretto) Paul Reynolds (Pat Denning), 42nd Street is really all about the dancing and a fabulous array of musical numbers by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics). Many of the roles call for triple threat performers as the cast of characters is made up of people putting on a show. As the woman of the hour who has to save the day, Mara Cecilia (Peggy Sawyer) looks the part of the dreamer following her heart and dances with brio and flair. James Darrah (Billy Lawlor) has an amazing tenor range, but it is a stretch to see him as the so-called "juvenile" actor in the Pretty Lady company. However, his terpsichorean skills merit a "wow" rating and age is merely a number when he struts his stuff with abandon atop a giant coin prop in "We're In The Money." Another senior member of the cast, Charley Borden (Andy Lee) is light on his feet and makes all the combinations look easy when he instructs the kids in the chorus line as Marsh's right hand man.
Approximately fourteen of the ensemble members are present or former students of The Boston Conservatory at Berklee, three of whom play chorus girls featured as chums of the starry-eyed Sawyer. Katie Scarlett Brunson (Anytime Annie) is a standout whose vocal belt is a match for her crisp time steps and pull-backs. Ansley Speares (Lorraine) and Allyson Duarte (Phyllis) complete the quartet that impresses with a lively "Go Into Your Dance." The entire chorus is on stage for the incredible opening tap dance ("Audition") and, in context, it is undoubtedly one of the best in the musical theater canon. And then along comes the penultimate number in the first act, which is the big production of "We're In The Money," and the second act features the production number "42nd Street" from opening night of Pretty Lady. With sultry, jazzy accompaniment from the Jeffrey Leonard conducted orchestra, Sawyer and Billy perform a steamy pas de deux, their taps talking to each other, carrying on a conversation as clearly as if they were using Morse code. The segment is brilliantly choreographed and beautifully interpreted.
42nd Street is a splashy production with all of the bells and whistles of a big Broadway musical. Well, there aren't literally any bells and whistles, but Music Director Dan Rodriguez has stocked the 17-piece orchestra with reeds, trumpets, trombones, horn, guitar, banjo, harp, piano, bass, and drums that bring the score vibrantly to life, and the cast is filled with a cadre of great voices. Robin Wagner's original scenic design evokes 1933 New York City and Philadelphia, and Theoni V. Aldredge's original costume designs are both gorgeous and authentic. David Wilson adds many interesting lighting effects, but especially deserves kudos for the back-lighting that casts giant shadows on a screen in "Shadow Waltz."
Over the course of 49 summer seasons, Reagle Music Theatre has staged 42nd Street a number of times before. Although I've never seen any of those productions, I'm willing to bet that none of them had to contend with anything approaching the offstage drama of this one. There is obvious irony in the fact that it was this show that had to scramble to replace one of its stars at the eleventh hour, but Eagle and the entire company pulled it together. The end result is a 42nd Street infused with a special ingredient, a little bit of heart from everyone on the team.