Music by Harry Warren. Lyrics by Al Dubin. Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Directed by Barbara Tomasic. Musical direction by Christopher King. Choreography by Julie Tomaino. At Studio 58 on Saturday, February 4. Continues until February 26
42nd Street is a big show—a really, really big show. And it’s a terrific showcase for the ample talent in Studio 58’s current crop of students.
The 1980 stage musical, based on the 1933 Busby Berkeley movie (itself based on a novel by Bradford Ropes), tells the Depression-era story of an ingénue actress, Peggy Sawyer, stumbling into stardom in a theatrical extravaganza. The storytelling is a bit wonky: Peggy’s ambition isn’t defined enough to be a central narrative, and she has three potential love interests, all murkily explored (and we won’t even get into their questionable sexual politics). But that’s not the point of this singing, dancing machine of a show, whose plot points are merely connective tissue between big group numbers.
Those numbers give the 23-person cast plenty of opportunities to strut their stuff. This is very much an ensemble piece, and director Barbara Tomasic emphasizes the camaraderie in this fictional theatre troupe, while choreographer Julie Tomaino capitalizes on the cast’s seemingly boundless energy. From the pure joy of “Young and Healthy”, one of many instances of exuberant tap-dancing, to the shadow-projection play of “Shadow Waltz” and the witty train-car antics of “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”, 42nd Street is a visual and rhythmic feast. Tomasic effectively roots her actors’ accents and gestures in the period, as do Carmen Alatorre’s prolifically splendid costumes. (Check out the dollar-bill lapels and skirts for “We’re in the Money”.)
Standouts in the cast include Elizabeth Barrett as the savvy, cynical playwright Maggie and Emily Doreen Wilson as a feisty chorus girl, Annie. Krista Skwarok’s wide-eyed, good-natured Peggy sings beautifully, as does Stephanie Wong, who imparts a convincing hauteur to diva Dorothy Brock. The singers aren’t miked, and some of them struggle a bit with volume in the solo numbers, but when the whole cast sings together, it’s divine.
The production elements are flawless. Pam Johnson’s set affectionately deploys the classic textures of a Broadway theatre: brick walls, rough wooden floors, and big barn doors at the rear. Meanwhile, Alan Brodie’s lighting celebrates the razzle-dazzle of pure entertainment. Christopher King’s six-piece orchestra brings the musical magic without ever missing a beat.
It’s show biz, folks! Enjoy.