Goodspeed Opera House amazes again with a grand production featuring a large cast tapping, shuffling and dancing their way around on a relatively small stage as 42nd Street opens the 2009 season.
The dancers expertly “go into their dance” with the help of choreographer Rick Conant, who performed in the original Broadway cast of the show (with music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Al Dubin). He reunites at Goodspeed with director Ray Roderick, whom he partnered with on “Singing in the Rain” here.
Roderick and set designer Howard Jones use multiple levels to dramatic effect and create the illusion that there are far more many dancers on the tiny stage than it will hold. The cast dances around the oft-changing and moving sets as the story of the chorus girl cum understudy who blossoms into a star unfolds.
Kristen Martin stars as Peggy Sawyer, the Allentown waif who journeys to New York with dreams of making it big on Broadway, despite the depression (lines about the hard economic times making it hard for Broadway shows have present-day relevance). With talent and a little help from star Billy Lawlor (Austin Miller), she lands a job in the chorus line of “Pretty Lady,” a new musical by the writing team of Maggie Jones and Bert Barry (a delightful Dorothy Stanley and Dale Hensley), directed by the legendary Julian Marsh (James Lloyd Reynolds).
The show’s producer, a Colonel-Sanders-like Abner Dillon (Erick Devine), demands that his love interest, Broadway diva Dorothy Brock (Laurie Wells) star in “Pretty Lady” unaware that she is seeing the dashing Pat Denning (Jonathan Stewart) on the side. When Dorothy is injured just days before the show opens, Peggy gets tapped for the lead and works tirelessly with and increasingly amorous Julian to learn the part.
42nd Street (book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble) offers a songbook full of classics, including “Go Into Your Dance,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” “We’re in the Money,” and the title song, “42nd Street” all under the apt musical direction f William J. Thomas with orchestrations by Dan DeLange.
Costume designer David H. Lawrence recreates the period and mood with 1930s frocks, coin-spangled gold lame and sequins – lots of them – to add to the dazzle of the non-stop action. The only dim factor in the production is a lack of spark between Martin and Reynolds, whose Julian is somewhat stiff. We never get to see the flame ignite for Peggy, or Julian’s charm as exuded by Jerry Orbach in the original on Broadway.
The character actors come to the rescue, however. Stanley gives a great turn as the brassy, but soft-hearted Maggie, Miller is engaging as the egocentric, but winning Billy and Devine is very entertaining as the gruff, but naïve Dillon.
42nd Street plays at The Goodspeed Opera House (6 Main Street, East Haddam, CT) through July 4. Performance times are Wednesdays at 2 pm and 7:30 pm; Thursdays at 2pm and 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm; and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $26 to $69.50 and can be purchased by calling 860-873-8668 or by visiting www.goodspeed.org.