Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tonight's Theater: 42nd Street

This evening I saw the touring production of 42ND STREET at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California.

This was my first time to see the show, which like the 1933 movie was based on a novel by Bradford Ropes. Of course, the theatrical version also owes a great deal to the movie, including the Warren-Dubin score.

The show also incorporates the Warren-Dubin catalogue from other '30s Warner Bros. musicals, such as "We're in the Money" from GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933) and "Lullaby of Broadway" from GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935).

The general outlines of the 42ND STREET story are the same in both movie and theatrical show: director Julian Marsh (Matthew J. Taylor) needs a hit show, but there's a snag when leading lady Dorothy Brock (Kaitlin Lawrence) breaks her leg. Young chorus girl Peggy Sawyer (Caitlin Ehlinger) takes her place, with the director telling her on opening night she needs to "come back a star!"

The overall show was on the weaker end of productions I've seen in the last several years, but the dancing was absolutely stunning, and there's plenty of it. Whatever the show's deficiencies, anyone who loves precision tap dancing shouldn't hesitate to see 42ND STREET.

First, the negatives:

*Most shows at Segerstrom Hall have excellent sound, but 42ND STREET, like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST almost exactly five years ago, had surprisingly poor sound quality at times. It's bad enough when women's high-pitched voices are indistinct, but Blake Stadnik's speaking and singing voice were swallowed up by the theater, especially in his earliest scenes.

*The characters lost any sense of realism they had in the movie, becoming for the most part shallow cartoon characters. The biggest disappointment in this regard was Ehlinger as Peggy Sawyer; maybe she was trying to channel Ruby Keeler's naive sweetness, but she came off as a high-pitched airhead and was more annoying than sympathetic. She can sure dance, though! I'd be curious to know how other actresses have approached the role; for instance, it's hard to imagine Catherine Zeta-Jones, who played Peggy in London's West End, doing the role as a cross between Betty Boop and Olive Oyl, which is kind of what I felt like I was watching tonight.

*The women's wigs are really, really bad -- big and thick and defying gravity in very odd ways. It's unusual for wigs to be distracting but they definitely were for me in this show.

Now for the things that made it an enjoyable evening despite those issues:

*The costumes are wonderful, especially in the opening scene. 42ND STREET has one of the great opens of all time, as the curtain initially rises only a couple of feet, revealing the tapping feet of the entire cast, their shiny shoes the colors of Easter egg pastels. Absolutely fabulous! The curtain then goes up completely to reveal the cast "rehearsing" in terrific '30s outfits.

*Taylor as director Julian Marsh is the most successful breaking out of the cartoon mold, with a booming singing voice which was most impressive. I was fascinated that, just as the movie ends with Warner Baxter listening to the crowd raving about the show, 42ND STREET doesn't end with a group number, but with Marsh alone on stage singing. It was quite powerful. (And the audience gets a great tap encore during the final bows.)

*Dancing, dancing, and more dancing, to the music of Warren and Rubin! The original Broadway show was directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, but the credits indicate that this revival's director, Randy Skinner, also created new choreography.

All in all, a very enjoyable, tuneful evening which I especially recommend for dance fans.

For more on the show, here's a positive review from the Orange County Register.

Related posts: Tonight's Theater: The Phantom of the Opera; Tonight's Theater: My Fair Lady; Tonight's Theater: South Pacific (October 14, 2010); Tonight's Theater: South Pacific (October 22, 2010); Tonight's Theater: Beauty and the Beast; Tonight's Theater: Mary Poppins; Tonight's Theater: West Side Story; Tonight's Theater: A Christmas Carol; Tonight's Theater: White Christmas; Tonight's Theater: The Lion King.


Blogger Irene said...

Guess what - I was there last night too! I'm surprised we didn't run into each other because we often have in the past :)
I went with a large group (102) senior citizens from a group I belong to - Long Beach City College (though no longer sponsored by them)Lifetime Learning for Seniors. We came on two buses.
I agree with your assessment. Though I liked the actor who played Marsh, I couldn't help but compare him to the videos I've seen of Jerry Orbach's performance in this role. I was also annoyed at times with Peggy and her always apologizing to everyone.
We stayed afterwards for the talk back and learned that the women's mike packs were secured to the top of their heads sort of towards the back and the wigs covered them. Perhaps this is the reason they seemed out of shape to you. We were too far back for me to notice this. Not sure where you sat, but we were in the orchestra back in sections V, W, X and Y toward the right side. No one was sitting in the seats further to the left so some of us moved at intermission so we could be more straight on to the stage. I had no problems with the sound. I've heard it depends on where you sit in that venue.
Overall, it was a great night and uplifting to hear some bright, peppy music and watch those kids tap their hearts out!

8:24 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I was fortunate enough to perform in 42nd STREET for a little over three years. During that time, I worked with at least three full-time Peggy Sawyers and probably three or four understudies. I can absolutely attest that there was a wide range of performances in that one, seemingly simple role. All the Peggys could dance like a dream, some sang better than others, but the wide range was really in the acting.

I remember standing in the wings listening to my third Peggy on her opening night and commenting to another actor, "wow, I guess it is possible to actually act this role."

It's very easy for an actress to fall into a sing-song, purely "cartoon" performance in a role like that. But a really strong actress can find something more.

Glad you enjoyed it. I don't know this production, but I know the show I did, while certainly not deathless theater, was consistently entertaining.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Irene, how fantastic you were there the same night! Wish we'd run into each other. We left before the post-show Q&A session so I really appreciated that info on the mikes. That certainly seems to explain why the hair looked so weird -- on some of the women, including Dorothy, it stuck straight out in back yet it wasn't a bun. I think they need to go back to the drawing board on that mike plan! LOL.

I'll have to look for footage of Orbach in this!

Rick, how fantastic you were in the show and know it so well! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences. I was fascinated to hear your impressions. This Peggy was definitely a sing-song cartoon -- in fact it seemed as though she was deliberately casting her voice in the upper register which was distracting. Fortunately it's such an enjoyable show, thanks especially to the music and dancing, that it was a good night anyway. :)

Best wishes,

1:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

PS Irene, We were in the first balcony toward the back.


1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love this stage musical ever since first seeing it when it opened in London. Fantastic dance choreography and fabulous songs.
Have you ever seen CRAZY FOR YOU? It is reminiscent of Forty Second Street and full of Gershwin songs.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, I've never seen CRAZY FOR YOU but that sure sounds like my kind of show. I'll stay on the lookout for it! Thank you. :)

I envy you seeing this on stage in London. One of my favorite things about London is all the theater available to see!

Best wishes,

8:41 PM  

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