BWW Review: 42ND STREET at Ogunquit Playhouse
The opening seconds of 42nd Street sets the stage for the entire production.
The curtain partially rises to reveal just the legs and feet of cast members as their tap shoes move in syncopated rhythm. While the story and music are vital to the success of this musical, the tap dance numbers are the real stars of the show.
Whether hailing back to the film version of the show or previous productions on Broadway or regional theatre, people remember the essence of the plot. 42nd Street is a backstage look at the journey of director, Julian Marsh (Steve Blanchard), to make a comeback during the Depression with a splashy new musical called "Pretty Lady." After his leading lady Dorothy Brock (Rachel York) injures herself before opening night, a bright-eyed chorus girl, (Jessica Wockenfuss) Peggy Sawyer, is called upon to tackle the lead role in the show with only 36 hours to learn two dozen songs, a dozen dance routines, and to convince show audiences that they are witnessing a hit production.
"Do it for 'musical comedy,' the two greatest words in the English language," Marsh tells Peggy before launching into a stirring version of "Lullaby of Broadway." It is every aspiring performer's dream to take center stage.
"Be at your best because audiences are paying an outrageously high $4.40 a seat," says script writer, Maggie Jones (Sally Struthers).
The show is a fast-paced ride of witty lines, theatrical stereotypes, and dance number after glowing dance number. The stage explodes with tap routines in "We're in the Money," "Lullaby of Broadway," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," and the signature tune, "Forty Second Street." I imagine it is difficult enough to learn a tap routine. This show ups the ante by having folks perform on small platforms, on the expansive stage, and on an imposing staircase where one trip of the shoe could lead to disaster.
Director/Choreographer, Randy Skinner, packs everything into this tight production. The dance numbers dazzle, the melodic tunes joyful, and the elements of stage design and lighting lead to wonderful backdrops for a very talented cast.
Blanchard. as the director, commands attention creating a dominating character with vocal prowess that's strong and theatrical. York, as the fading diva, strikes a chord like a Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard," with a fabulous singing range and a striking presence and personality. This duo grounds the production with extensive stage experience.
Wockenfuss oozes sweetness and charm as the youngster ready to conquer Broadway. She has the whole package; a winning smile, strong voice and more dancing acumen than seems possible in a single performer. She connects with the audience in a wonderful way that has them rooting for her success.
Con O'Shea-Creal plays the tenor Billy Lawlor as a handsome flirt with enthusiasm and incredible dancing talent. The perpetually favorite Sally Struthers offers her usual camp comedy timing with shining moments in a tune or two.
Jake Weinstein is a standout as the dance captain, Andy Lee, who leads the chorus through intricate tap routines all the while making it look ever so easy.
And a shout out goes to the entire ensemble cast that puts the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears into every mind-blowing dance number. Sure, a couple of them are called out to do a few smaller numbers, but you'll be amazed by the tenacity and endurance everyone shows even if they are in the back row of a major number. The energy and dedication of this might team pours off the stage creating a very memorable production.
The scenic design by Douglas Schmidt uses every inch of the Ogunquit stage to seamlessly run locations from a stage rehearsal hall to a vast train station and back to a Busby Berkeley grand musical set. Roger Kirk's costuming is vibrant especially when showcasing the chorus line. Music Director, Jeffrey Campos, doesn't miss a beat playing a slew of favorite tunes perfectly in balance with onstage voices.
As the show garnered a standing ovation during the show and after the finale, I asked the woman seated behind me if she enjoyed it.
"I did. Tap dancing is wonderful to watch," responded the U.S. Senator from Maine, Susan Collins.
No matter what your political view, you'll agree with the Senator if you see the Ogunquit production of 42nd Street.
Photos by Gary Ng.