Wednesday, January 11, 2017

42nd Street

Add cErnestine Balisi as Peggy Sawyer and Nathan Lacy as Julian Marsh
perform in the Davis Musical Theatre Company's production of “42nd Street.”
Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

 If you like tap dancing, you’re going to love Davis Musical Theatre Company’s sparkling new production of “42nd Street,” directed by John Ewing, with choreography by Terri Taylor.

This formulaic Depression-era story of a girl from the Midwest arriving in New York, determined to become a star, was first a Busby Berkeley movie vehicle for hoofer Ruby Keeler in 1933, with a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, lyrics by Al Dubin, and music by Harry Warren.

In 1980, David Merrick decided to bring the story to Broadway, under direction of Gower Champion. The stage version used only four of the songs from the original movie version and added songs from other musicals of the 1930s. The end result was nominated for several awards in 1981 and won a Tony for best revival in 2001.

The central figure of the story is Peggy Sawyer, played by Ernestine Balisi, with a sparkle in her eyes and a big Mary Tyler Moore smile. Peggy almost never loses her conviction that she can be a star and it’s hard to believe that nobody involved with casting can see that she’s a bundle of talent.

Wendy Carey is the aging diva, Dorothy Brock, who no longer has the talent she used to when she was the darling of Broadway. Though she has the belting ability of an Ethel Merman, they now have to get the chorus to dance around her to hide the fact that her steps are no longer up to par. Carey gives the role her all, and her final message of encouragement to Peggy is touching. (“Now go out there and be so swell that you’ll make me hate you!”)

Randal Costa and Monica Parisi play Bert and Maggie, the writers of the show, who step into the chorus when necessary. Parisi has the mannerism and voice of one of those old show-biz dames who have been around Broadway forever.

Kyle Jackson is Billy Lawler, the leading tenor with whom there is a hint of a romance with Peggy. Though the actor is 22 years old, he seems younger and the chemistry often appears forced. He has a fine voice, though had problems with his voice cracking on high notes on opening night, which contributed to the feeling that he is younger than the role called for.

Steve Isaacson had great fun as Abner Dillon, the Texas gazillionaire, sugar daddy to Dorothy. It’s the kind of role Isaacson loves to play and does so well.

But the standout performance was by Nathan Lacy, as Julian Marsh, the famous but acerbic director, who eventually sees the talent Peggy has and pushes her to the limits to step into the starring role after Dorothy has an accident. He gives her a pep talk when she gets nervous: “Two hundred people, two hundred jobs, two hundred thousand dollars, five weeks of grind and blood and sweat depend upon you. It’s the lives of all these people who’ve worked with you. You’ve got to go on, and you’ve got to give and give and give.”

Surely that’s enough to calm her down! “You’re going out a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star!”

When Lacy sings his signature song, “42nd Street,” it’s a show-stopping moment. The voice that was so memorable in the recent “Man of La Mancha” blew everyone away.

If there is anything negative to say about this Julian Marsh it is that his gray hair and the obvious age difference between him and Peggy make the one emotional moment between them a little creepy, where it would not have been with a more age-appropriate actor.

Perhaps the best part of this show is the nearly nonstop tap dancing. Choreographer Taylor has worked her chorus extremely well and there is nothing more thrilling than a stage full of tap dancers.

Someday, I hope DMTC finds its own sugar daddy so that when it does one of these better-than-average musicals, it can afford the sets to give it the look it deserves. The company does well with minimal sets, but oh for a bit of glitz and glam!

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