Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin. Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, based on the novel by Bradford Ropes. Directed by Robert McQueen. A Theatre Under the Stars production. At Malkin Bowl on Thursday, July 12. Continues until August 17
The Broadway musical 42nd Street has tapped its way to Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park. The Theatre Under the Stars production opened to an appreciative audience who enjoyed the tremendous efforts put forth by the popular theatre company, which is celebrating its 72nd season. And while 42nd Street doesn’t quite knock it out of the park, there’s some great talent on display.
This perennial American musical comedy is a “star is born” tale about young chorus girl Peggy Sawyer. Director Robert McQueen's staging of the show keeps the action going at a quick pace—there are no long scene change transitions or dragged-out dialogue sequences, which means the show is able to keep our attention drawn to the story line. McQueen accomplishes this, in part, through the clever use of Brian Ball’s 1930s-appropriate set to effortlessly transport us from rehearsals to dressing rooms and onto the Broadway stage.
Ball’s set involves a theatre proscenium to give the illusion of being on-stage during the “show within the show” numbers. While the intention is rational, it also somewhat subdues the staging of the show, as the big dance numbers seem to be confined within the “stage” area, as opposed to utilizing the entire actual stage and fully reaching out to the audience.
Shelley Stewart Hunt’s choreography replicates the style of 1930s American musical theatre, drawing shades of Busby Berkeley while also adding some fresh elements. For example, during the audition scene, some dancers actually get eliminated, adding an element of realism; “Getting Out of Town” cleverly takes us along the cast’s train journey. And the showstopper “We’re in the Money” showcases the fabulous tap-dance talents of Blake Sartin and Colin Humphrey.
As reigning Broadway star Dorothy Brock, Janet Gigliotti steals the show with her diva persona and electrifying voice, highlighted by “I Know Now”. And while Paige Fraser nails the 1930s persona of a naive chorus girl in her portrayal of Peggy Sawyer, her vocal performance in her big-star moment in the story's "Pretty Lady" opening isn't quite strong enough. While she hits her notes, her vocal belt doesn't pack enough punch, staying at one level instead of hitting different dynamics and exploding at the top.
There’s also a hint of a romantic spark between Fraser’s character and Broadway producer Julian Marsh, played by Andrew Cownden. Given the noticeable age difference between the two actors, their relationship comes across as uncomfortable and awkward.
While this production is polished and fun to watch due to its youthful, energetic triple-threat talent, the show lacks the extra pizzazz needed to make audience members jump to their feet, which is what 42nd Street is known for. What's missing are iconic musical-theatre moments that inspire audiences to erupt in wild applause—for example, the curtain rising just enough to reveal rows of tapping feet, or a grand finale of some sort. Audiences love moments like these, and throughout the show it felt as if people were on the edge of their seats, waiting for something that never came. The deletion of the finale number (performed after the curtain call in previous productions) ends on a somewhat lacklustre note (Cownden’s singing).
Still, it’s nice to see a new generation of talented performers breathe new life into such a treasured piece of musical theatre. It's also terrific that despite whatever issues may be happening around us, we're able to escape for an evening to the world of 42nd Street, where we can see dreams come true before our eyes, set to rousing dance numbers and feel-good Broadway showtunes.