BWW Reviews: A Toe-Tapping, Tap-Dancing 42ND STREET at Allenberry Playhouse
It's one of those iconic moments in theatre. The curtain raises - and holds in place somewhere around the ankles or shins of a large crowd of insanely talented tappers. It's 42ND STREET, Michael Stewart's and Mark Bramble's tribute to Bradford Ropes' novel and the 1933 movie, the Ruby Keeler vehicle of off-the-bus-to-Broadway-stardom overnight that everyone still adores. The Al Dubin and Harry Warren songs, the matinee-idol star crooning "Lullaby of Broadway" - what's not to love?
For the most part, Allenberry's production of the 1980 musical (Gower Champion's last work) succeeds. Director Ryan Gibbs has given audiences glitz, glamour, and girls, and plenty of tap, and some attractive leads with good voices. And the pit band's smokin'.
The opening's a letdown, though. Rather than an opaque curtain raising slightly to let the audience have a view of those incredible feet in isolation, as the show usually does, the curtain was up, and a scrim was raised - one could see through it fully, so that there appeared to be a heavy, dark line (the bottom of the scrim) separating ankles and feet from the rest of very visible bodies. It's a disappointing effect.
But there's no disappointment in Allison Mickelson's portrayal of diva Dorothy Brock, the semi-talented wonder, or in Ed Cohn's dictatorial Julian Marsh, the great director from Hell. Beth Miller is a competent Peggy Sawyer, putting forth maximum dance moves and singing, though perhaps slightly less forceful in a display of acting chops than the other leads. Brian Padgett's Bert is classic, and it's doubtful that anyone has shuffled off to Buffalo any more delightfully, with Jill Taylor Anthony as his hardworking partner Maggie. Padgett gives the show some wonderful physical comedy.
Allenberry producer John Heinze has the fun of playing sugar daddy Abner Dillon, and he gives a creditable performance as the rich man trying to produce a star vehicle for his girlfriend Dorothy, she of the not-so-dancing feet. He's opposed in his affections by vaudevillian Pat Denning, played by Jon McHatton, who's Dorothy's longtime flame.
Cohn, as Julian Marsh, is the center of the show outside of the battle of Dorothy and Pegy, and he's a particularly fine Marsh; if he, like Mickelson, gives a nod towards chewing the scenery, well, this is the show to do it in, because it works perfectly here. Miller's flaw may be that she's failing to stake a claim to her piece of the set to digest. Similarly, "juvenile lead tenor" Billy Lawlor, played by Jeff Sullivan, is played well, but perhaps fades into the background against the downstage attention-holding of Mickelson and Cohn. Neither Cohn nor Mickelson can be faulted - they're doing it right.
The sets have come up considerably in quality this year at Allenberry, and this is no exception. It's a good-looking show all told, from sets through costumes, and it's mostly well-lit; it's only that the opening scene is ineffective when the dancers can be seen through the scrim, which is perhaps a lighting flaw, but it's awkward rather than spectacular. And the sound, for the most part, also works - the singers are generally properly audible over the band and over the tap, which is a definite relief this season. Mickelson's "I Know Now," the ensemble's "We're in the Money", and the title number are all well-staged and well-delivered. Cohn's and the ensemble's "Lullaby of Broadway" are precisely what they should be.
CHICAGO two seasons ago proved that Allenberry could raise its stakes. It's nice to see Gibbs, the new Artistic Director, pushing them further. This bodes well for the upcoming productions of OKLAHOMA! and MAME.
If it's tap you're after, this is your show. Despite, or perhaps because of, the interest in other dance forms seen on current television competitions, tap seems to be doing as well as, if not better than, ever. The tap here is doing very well - it's nicely choreographed by Dann Dunn, and this cast, unlike some previous ones at Allenberry, has their routines together and properly rehearsed. It's worth it for tap fans to make this trip - it's a jazz fest with a hot band, flaming feet, and as ever, a ton of heart.
At Allenberry through July 20. For tickets and information, call 717-258-3211 or visit www.allenberry.com.