BWW Review: 42ND STREET at Kauffman Center For The Performing Arts
The "42nd Street" touring company, now in performance at the Kauffman Center, is a crowd pleaser of a show. This show is interrupted mid-dance number by applause more times than a Presidential "State of the Union" address and this audience actually means it.
Director Julian Marsh tells Peggy Sawyer "You're going out there a youngster, but you're coming back a star." "42nd Street" does not require a bunch of analysis or deep thought. For audiences that like familiar music and huge dance production numbers, this show is for you. It will tap its way into your heart.
Peggy Sawyer (Clara Cox) is a young dancer just off the bus from Allentown PA. She is late to a chorus audition of "Pretty Lady" featuring established Broadway star Dorothy Brock (Kara Gibson Slocum). The year is 1933. Director Julian Marsh (Mathew J. Taylor) has been hit hard by the Great Depression. "Pretty Lady" is being financed by Dorothy Brock's latest "benefactor du jour" Abner Dillon (Chris Carsten), a rich purveyor of Kiddy-Kars. "Pretty Lady" is Julian's comeback show.
The comedy leads are the supposed writers of "Pretty Lady" by Maggie (Gerrianne Genda) and Bert (Steven Bidwell). Peggy finds her way into the chorus with the help of tenor lead Billy Lawlor (Connor Coughlin). During a Philadelphia tryout of the show, Peggy bumps into star Dorothy during a blackout. Dorothy (no pun intended) breaks-a-leg. Peggy is fired and flees to the Philadelphia train station to await the train back to Allentown. "Pretty Lady" must close. Hundreds of jobs are at stake, but Peggy can save the day if she will agree to take Dorothy's place and star in the show.
Julian persuades Peggy to stay with the show and sings "Lullaby of Broadway" which starts slowly and flowers into another huge production number. She saves the jobs. She saves the day. She saves the two most beautiful words in the English language "Musical Comedy."
"42nd Street" is based on a 1933 film starring Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, and Ginger Rogers. The 1980 musical version was written by Mark Bramble (director of this production) and Bill Stewart. Choreography is by Randy Skinner based on the original dances by Gower Champion.
42nd Street is stocked with familiar musical numbers. In addition to the two already mentioned, these include "Shadow Waltz," "You're Getting to Be A Habit With Me," "Keep Young And Beautiful," I Only Have Eyes To You," "We're In The Money," and Shuffle Off To Buffalo." Almost all of these explode into tap numbers.
The touring show scenic elements are designed by Kaycie Hultgren. Because of the huge numbers of dance numbers, scenic elements are sparse, but appropriate and supplemented with a large number of scrims and drops. Costumes are elaborate and extensive. "42nd Street" has dozens of quick changes by large groups of dancers. This is a huge company complete with an unusual ten-member pit orchestra. It is nearing the end of a six month tour, but retains its excellent energy level.
The cast is excellent throughout. Clara Cox (Peggy) has an excellent future. She is certainly a standout dancer as is the whole ensemble. Mathew J. Taylor (Julian) is impressive for his traditional technique. It is easy to imagine the late great Jerry Orbach performing the role. I consider that a great compliment to Taylor.
Audiences love "42nd Street." It is a harmless and engaging confection and display of pure talent. With all the crazy stuff going on in the world today, audiences need a little more traditional enjoyment. "42nd Street" succeeds on all levels.
"42nd Street" runs at the Kauffman Center through Sunday, May 7. Tickets are available at http://theaterleague.com/kansascity/42nd-street/ or by telephone at 816.421.7500.
Photo courtesy of the Broadway Theater League of Kansas City