Review: Musical Theatre West Revisits Classic 42ND STREET in Long Beach

This old-timey, backstage musical that features high-energy, seemingly non-stop tap dancing returns in an admirably flashy new production.

By: Feb. 13, 2024
Review: Musical Theatre West Revisits Classic 42ND STREET in Long Beach
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Review: Musical Theatre West Revisits Classic 42ND STREET in Long Beach
April Nixon. Photo by ©TAKE Creative.

The last time that Musical Theatre West staged a production of the hit 1980 Tony Award-winning musical 42ND STREET at its home base at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach was way back in November of 2012. Even then, this spirited, song-and-dance spectacular—the Broadway stage adaptation of the 1933 Busby Berkeley movie musical based on the novel by Bradford Ropes—was a fun yet undeniably super-square affair, marked by a safely awww shucks storyline as well as a very generous helping of seemingly non-stop tap-dancing numbers that often left audiences just as breathless as the hardworking, talented hoofers doing all that fancy footwork on stage.

Now more than a decade later, that same high-energy, old-fashioned, saccharine goodness is still embedded in the DNA of MTW's latest flashy revival of the show, a classic (though now quite cliché) backstage story about the making of a Broadway musical, with particular focus on the subsequent drama that unravels when its "aging" diva marquee star loses the lead role to a much younger, inexperienced, but naturally talented newcomer within the ensemble who must now not only convince its director and financier that she's capable of pulling it off, but also find the courage to flawlessly perform the lead role during the show's opening night debut.

For the most part, MTW's brand-new, admirably plucky 2024 production—now on stage through February 25—easily succeeds as a very entertaining, visually cheerful stage show, filled with strong, confident singing voices from its enormous cast, a rousingly robust orchestra under the vigorously zippy baton of energetic musical director Wilkie Ferguson, and dynamic, zestfully tap-tastic dance numbers devised by choreographer Cheryl Baxter, who basically makes all the tap dancing the true star of the show. Despite its lack of any real, serious stakes, deeper thematic elements, or any sneaked-in modern narrative sensibilities, the show itself is still a fun time, particularly when the audience simply surrenders to its bubbly charms and its wow-inducing tap dancing.

Review: Musical Theatre West Revisits Classic 42ND STREET in Long Beach
Emma Nossal. Photo by ©TAKE Creative.

This time around, the new production is directed by Cynthia Ferrer who also helmed the enjoyable recent MTW productions of DAMN YANKEES and 9 TO 5 - THE MUSICAL. Like her work in those two likable productions, Ferrer once again shows a distinctive panache for astutely staging buoyant musicals that feature vibrant large ensembles that truly embody the "all-singing, all-dancing" mantra of these winsome shows of yesteryear.

But what, of course, elevates this antiquated musical from being just another milquetoast stage show tethered to an old-fashioned, bygone era, is its unabashedly showy, escapist elements. Aside from the terrific dance numbers, audiences will delight in the show's vintage Broadway-like sets designed by Bruce Brockman (an upgrade from what was used in the 2012 production) and the colorful luxe costumes designed by Debbie Roberts—both courtesy of Music Theatre Wichita.

Music-wise, the pit orchestra (who actually gets a cheeky meta-joke thrown at its expense in the show) sounds full and hearty revisiting its ear worm songbook, filled with fun and frothy tunes that make sense for such a dance-centric musical.

Older audience members will likely remember many of the show's collection of classic, early 20th Century songs—including the title track, "Lullaby of Broadway," "We're In The Money," and "Shuffle Off to Buffalo"—making 42ND STREET, technically, a sort of jukebox musical featuring compositions by musician Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin from not only the 1933 source material but also from their other films that released during the same time period (one song in the show is credited to Warren and lyricist Johnny Mercer).

The show's adorably dorky book—penned by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble—is filled with old-timey dialogue that will elicit some snickers (and, with me, a few cringe-y reactions), but it is actually part of the show's endearing charm… even though, I found myself chuckling  at some clichéd mannerisms and dated ideologies. At one point, I even found a specific moment quite laughable: when a plot-critical "accident" happens at the end of act one that had me wondering… why the heck does a big Broadway production not have understudies and standbys at the ready when such things happen?! Seriously?

Such a fantasy narrative would not at all be believable today.

Be that as it may, MTW's new 42ND STREET is quite appealing in its immovable pleasantness and optimism—quite a contrast to see and hear during our cynical and jaded modern times of today. How refreshing to see characters that genuinely root for each other rather than outright sabotage each other to gain fame and/or fortune or a leg up. And despite the show taking place during the Depression era, much of that reality doesn't really infiltrate the show in any visual, tangible way. In essence, 42ND STREET is an open, rose-colored invitation to relive a moment in time, though now shown with a much more diverse cast that probably wouldn't have been possible in 1980 let alone 1933.

Review: Musical Theatre West Revisits Classic 42ND STREET in Long Beach
Emma Nossal and Quintan Craig.
Photo by ©TAKE Creative.

With that said, I cannot continue praising this production without highlighting its enjoyable, moxie-filled ensemble cast, who all collectively helped create a delightful atmosphere throughout the show, but also have several individuals amongst them worth mentioning.

As the show's talented young ingenue fresh off the bus from Allentown, PA, song-and-dance phenom Emma Nossal is effortlessly adorable as Peggy Sawyer, a young lady who is cheered on by her peers to not only join the cast of 42ND STREET's show-within-a-show, the Broadway-bound Pretty Lady, but also, later, take on the lead role mere days before its NYC opening night—even after being fired!

She is verbally well-matched to appropriately authoritative Robert Mammana's commanding director Julian Marsh, as well as Pretty Lady's eager, well-caffeinated male lead Billy Lawlor harboring a crush on her played by Quintan Craig.

Scene-stealers Bree Murphy and Jane Papageorge each give terrific, often hilarious performances as, respectively, songwriter/comedienne Maggie Jones and Peggy's BFF/ensemble standout Annie Reilly, while Jamie Torcellini provides ample comic moments as songwriter/comedian Bert Barry, a role he reprises from MTW's 2012 production. I also loved the supportive sisterhood Nossal's Peggy forms with Papageorge's Annie, Bree Murphy's Maggie, April Lovejoy's Lorraine, and Maggie Ek's Phyllis.

And, lastly, I'd like to raise a glass to the beautifully-voiced April Nixon who is such a believably regal diva as Dorothy Brock, Pretty Lady's seasoned but difficult-to-work-with leading lady, who must try to prove she still "has it," while simultaneously being caught in a torrid love triangle between her new show's Southern-fried financier Abner Dillon (the funny Kevin Carolan) and her secret paramour Pat Denning (Stephen Bishop).

Again, it's worth repeating how wonderful the collective ensemble is, especially when the entire company is singing-and-dancing up a storm. If for anything else, these numbers are worth experiencing in person, and as an audience member, you can definitely feel the genuine joy everyone is putting out.

Review: Musical Theatre West Revisits Classic 42ND STREET in Long Beach
The Company of MTW's 42ND STREET. Photo by ©TAKE Creative.

A darling, infectiously joyful confection of a show, 42ND STREET offers, sure, old-school musical theater antics mixed with outstanding tap dancing that harken to an era most of us can't even remember. Is that enough to revisit this relic from another time? Definitely.

Follow this reviewer on Twitter / Instagram / Threads: @cre8iveMLQ.

Photos © TAKE Creative Photography / Musical Theatre West.

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Performances of Musical Theatre West's production of 42ND STREET continue through Sunday, February 25, 2024. The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is located at 6200 E. Atherton Street in Long Beach, CA. For tickets or for more information, please call 562-856-1999 x4 or visit online at musical.org.




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