42nd Street is a musical from a more innocent time. The 1930s story line goes something like this: Small-town girl comes to the Big Apple to join the chorus line of a production loaded with dance numbers. She is too late but somehow the show’s producers discover she possesses huge talent. And of course, girl meets boy. Meanwhile, circumstances force the producers to cast a dance-challenged aging star in the lead role. On opening night, said star breaks her ankle. Now the show must close, putting the entire cast out of work in the middle of the Depression. Unless…
I don’t know if 42nd Street is dated, or if instead it offers its modern audiences a welcome reminiscence of the past. I do know that in the hands of Musical Theatre West the show is a high-energy clinic in tap-dancing expertise, the likes of which I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before, not even as a child when tap dancing was something performers still did.
The curtain rose to the jaw-dropping spectacle of what must have been at least 30 hoofers– what seemed like a veritable army of tap-dancing wonders. The scene turns out to be the audition for the show-within-a-show.
Just arrived from Allentown, Pennsylvania, main character Peggy Sawyer, who gets a sweet freshness from actress Tessa Grady, initially makes the requisite clumsy missteps that will boldly contrast with the eventual steely nerves and performing excellence of a star in the making. Grady is a dancing phenom with a lovely singing voice.
Damon Kirsche is thoroughly tyrannical in the no-nonsense role of producer Julian Marsh. A rare romantic scene in the second act positively sizzles.
As the hard-working stage hand, Jamie Torcellini is earnest and kind. Torcellini, a talented MTW regular, always delivers a terrific performance.
Zach Hess is a strong, self-confident and very likable Billy Lawlor.
Tracy Lore gives fading star Dorothy Brock an emotional complexity that lends the production much of its color and depth. She sings her several solo numbers with beauty and ease that bely her supposedly has-been status. So what? It’s a musical!
42nd Street features a few well-known songs that have undoubtedly stood the test of time– numbers such as “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and, of course, the title song.
Director/choreographer Jon Engstrom has mounted a production loaded with energy, fabulous choreography, gorgeous costumes (the cast must expend as much energy changing costumes as dancing), and some of the finest tap dancing ever. Musical Theatre West’s 42nd Street is thoroughly enjoyable.
42nd Street continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, through Nov. 11. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. Tickets start at $20 (plus a $3 per ticket service charge) and can be purchased through the MTW Box Office at (562) 856-1999 x4 or online at musical.org .