Review: "42nd Street" at the Palace Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

The tour of ‘42nd Street’ opened at Waterbury’s Palace Theater last night and the thunderous applause that filled this magnificent venue throughout the performance was only one indication of just how wonderful this “song and dance fable of Broadway” was. Seeing this backstage musical for the first time, I was glad that this sparkling production by Troika Entertainment LLC is the way I will remember it.

With a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble (based on a novel by Bradford Ropes and the subsequent 1933 film adaptation) and music by Harry Warren with lyrics by Al Dubin, this tour was directed by Mr. Bramble himself. It was originally produced on Broadway by David Merrick in 1980. The story focuses on a famed dictatorial director Julian Marsh trying to mount a successful stage production of a big musical during the height of the Depression. There is lots of backstage drama and Mr. Marsh does a lot of yelling, but it is an old-fashioned musical at its best and features an inordinate amount of high-spirited tap dancing that brought down the house.

The show opens with the curtain slowly rising to reveal forty pairs of tap-dancing feet and the production numbers fly fast and furious. The luxe costumes designed by Roger Kirk enter the stage in every hue of the rainbow and make the dances look even better. Massive sets designed by Beowulf Boritt were so elaborate and big that by the second act I began to wonder how they managed to store them all backstage. The pit musicians actually had a reference during the proceedings and played the beautiful score to perfection under the direction of Music Director J. Michael Duff.

The dancing ability among this very large ensemble was impressive to say the least and patrons who didn’t leave before the curtain call were treated to a final send off after the bows that was pretty stunning. The original direction and dances were by Gower Champion, but for this tour the musical staging and new stunning choreography was by Randy Skinner.

Highlights during the show for me were the lyrical “Shadow Waltz” that was visually beautiful, “Lullaby of Broadway,” and of course the title song. (I have had the that 1980s jingle for the NY hotel called The Milford Plaza stuck in my head for weeks.) Other familiar tunes included “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “We’re in the Money,” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.”

Matthew J. Taylor starred as the notorious but visionary Julian Marsh. Kaitlin Lawrence brought an amazing singing voice to the role of past her prime prima dona Dorothy Brock. Newcomer Caitlin Ehlinger made her tour debut in the role of the new chorus girl Peggy Sawyer and almost never stopped dancing beautifully. Britte Steele was loud and fabulous as producer and co-writer Maggie Jones and Steven Bidwell was her partner Bert Barry. Mark Fishback played Dorothy’s sugar daddy Abner Dillon.

DJ Canady was the suave Pat Denning.

Tenor Blake Stadnik played the leading tenor Billy Lawlor and had the best male costumes, and Natalia Lepore Hagan was the cheeky “Anytime” Annie. Carlos Morales covered the role of Mac the stage manager and several other roles, Lamont Brown was a standout as choreographer Andy Lee and Rob Ouellette (‘The Producers’ at Westchester Broadway Theatre) played (literally) the onstage rehearsal pianist Oscar. Vanessa Mitchell, Sarah Fagan and Mallory Nolting had supporting roles. Kudos to each and every member of the supremely talented and numerous ensemble. CT’s own Kelly Gleason danced in the chorus.

Best quote of the evening for me came from community theatre vet Chuck Stango, who was in the audience with his wife Melissa. He called tap dancing “not something I do well or at all.” We both therefore appreciated the magnificent toe-tapping all the more.

There are two remaining performances at the Palace on East Main Street in Waterbury on Saturday at 2:00pm and 8:00pm and tickets are available at the box office or online  I highly recommend this sparkling production.

Pictured: Blake Stadnik (center) and the ensemble of '42nd Street' Photo courtesy of Palace Theater