Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Twelfth Night
Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes and the 1933 film of the same name, the musical uses songs from the film written by the composing team of Harry Warren and Al Dubin along with other numbers they composed. The show features such familiar tunes as "We're in the Money," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "Lullaby of Broadway," "You're Gettin' to Be a Habit with Me" and the title song. The slightly revised 2001 Broadway revival version includes the excellent ballad "I Only Have Eyes for You."
The plot is fun but as thin and predictable as can be. Broadway director Julian Marsh is trying to put on a big Broadway show entitled Pretty Lady in the middle of the Great Depression featuring former star Dorothy Brock. While Marsh thinks Brock is past her prime, he needs the funding for the show that Brock's wealthy boyfriend has agreed to put up. In walks ingénue Peggy Sawyer, fresh off the bus from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to audition. Peggy immediately clashes with Brock, including stumbling into her during rehearsals making Dorothy fall and break her ankle. Will the show go on? Who could possibly fill in for Dorothy? It doesn't take a genius to figure out those answers or how the show will end. While the story is lightweight, the combination of the wall to wall dancing and the infectious songs from Warren and Dubin make for a joyful experience.
This national tour employs the Tony nominated director and choreographer from the revival and both are well acquainted with the material and the requirements needed to make it soar. Director Mark Bramble, who also co-wrote the book, ensures that the entire cast deliver their dialogue and lyrics in a period appropriate style. While it borders slightly on melodrama in parts, it also lovingly evokes a long ago and simpler time. Randy Skinner's musical staging and choreography wisely incorporate the original moves that won Gower Champion a Tony for the original Broadway production along with some additional steps that send it soaring into a non-stop frenzy of superiorly composed sequences of always changing styles of dance. The choreography even keeps going past the curtain call. If you love dancing, especially tap dancing, this production of 42nd Street is not to be missed.
This company also has three excellent performers in the lead parts of Marsh, Sawyer, and Brock. Demure and naïve but also bright eyed and full of energy and fire, Caitlin Ehlinger is simply smashing as Peggy. Her dancing is exceptional. Matthew J. Taylor infuses the demanding director Marsh with an appropriate air of determination and power, along with charm, fatherly advice, and a hint of romance. While the Marsh character doesn't get to sing much in the show, when Taylor does get the opportunity his notes soar through the air. Kaitlin Lawrence's take on Dorothy Brock is nuanced and full of fierceness with an undercurrent of vulnerability. Her singing is vibrant and smoky.
Standouts in the supporting cast include Britte Steele who brings a bold, brassy and boisterous belt to both her songs and dialogue scenes as Maggie, one of the songwriters of Pretty Lady; Blake Stadnik who has a smooth, bright voice and superior dance steps as Billy Lawlor, the handsome male lead of the show; and Natalia Lepore Hagan, Vanessa Mitchell and Mallory Nolting who are bright and rambunctious as the trio of dancers in the show whom Peggy befriends. Also, Lamont Brown is an exceptionally gifted dancer who brings a nice spark to the part of Andy, Marsh's Pretty Lady dance captain.
Creative elements are partly based on the Tony winning revival, including Roger Kirk's Tony nominated costumes, which are a non-stop parade of superb, and colorful, period perfect designs, and Peter Fitzgerald's sound design, which ensures every lyric and word of dialogue can be heard clearly. Beowulf Boritt's creative scenic design includes several large backdrops that quickly whisk us from one location to the next and Ken Billington's lighting is quite effective in ensuring that both the backstage and on-stage performances are vibrant. Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas's hair, wig, and make-up designs, along with the other creative elements, work splendidly to take us back to the 1933 setting of the show. J. Michael Duff's music direction is superb, with clear, stellar vocals from the large cast while evoking the sound of an orchestra twice as large as the eight musicians in the pit.
Full of charm and spunk, the national tour of 42nd Street features an exceptionally talented cast who make the vibrant, fun, and spirited choreography become a joyful and infectious experience.
42nd Street plays through April 10, 2016, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit www.42ndstmusical.com.
Directed by Mark Bramble