- Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
42nd Street is the kind of big Broadway musical that just puts a smile on your face. The tap dancing numbers are a pure joy to watch as chorus girls and boys dance in perfect unison. The very fine ensemble currently on stage in this touring show at the Dallas Summer Musicals gives it their all on stage. The reason this show has endured is it’s just plain FUN!
A young girl moves to the big city to pursue her dreams, gets cast in a Broadway show, and ends up becoming a star. Peggy Sawyer, a young girl from Allentown, Pennsylvania, arrives in New York City in 1933 to pursue her dream of being in a Broadway show. She arrives too late to audition for the new musical “Pretty Lady” by famous director Julian Marsh. She befriends some chorus girls and ends up impressing the director. Former star actress Dorothy Brock is the lead actress in “Pretty Lady” because her sugar daddy is the primary investor in the show. The cast travels to Pennsylvania for the out-of-town tryouts and on opening night Dorothy breaks her ankle thanks to Peggy who is promptly fired. Julian and the chorus kids convince Peggy to return to the show because she's talented enough to take over as lead for Dorothy. With only two days to learn the entire show as the new lead, Peggy is put to the test, but rises to the occasion and emerges a new Broadway star.
42nd Street has some well-known classic songs such as “Lullaby of Broadway”, “We’re in the Money”, “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”, “I Only Have Eyes for You”, and of course “42nd Street”. Every ensemble number is a tap-dancing extravaganza. The dialogue is actually pretty terrible and the plot is predictable, but this is above all a song and dance show. Every song is a visual treat, and well done by a talented cast of singers and dancers.
Caitlin Ehlinger plays the young and fresh Peggy Sawyer. Peggy is the ingénue who moves to New York to be in a Broadway show. She has natural talent, but no experience either onstage or in love. Ms. Ehlinger looks the part of the doe-eyed newcomer. She actually plays the character a little too sheepish and shy. She whispered a lot of her dialogue in a breathy Marilyn Monroe way. She has a lovely voice too, but she really shines in the dance numbers. Her feet were moving faster than anyone else’s on stage and she never looked tired.
Julian Marsh is the famous Broadway director with a hit track record. He’s a headstrong leader with a tough exterior, but actually has a kind heart and cares for his cast and crew. Matthew J. Taylor as Julian is really the best actor in the show. He finds the right balance to the character, and he has a booming voice that sounds extraordinary on his big number “Lullaby of Broadway”.
The diva past her prime is Dorothy Brock. Dorothy is using her sugar daddy, Abner Dillon, to get the lead role in Julian Marsh’s new show. Everyone knows Dorothy isn’t that talented and doesn’t deserve to act like such a prima donna. Kaitlin Lawrence plays Dorothy Brock, which is a good role for an actress. A lot of singing and not so much dancing. Ms. Lawrence looks kind of like a young Bette Midler, but doesn’t have near the vocal chops. Considering she does a lot of singing, I wish she had a voice that was a bit stronger and more memorable.
I was additionally impressed with two actresses in supporting roles. Maggie Jones is a co-writer and producer for “Pretty Lady”. She’s brassy, opinionated, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Britte Steele is a scene stealer as Maggie. She hit every punchline and every note just right. It’s a comedic role that Ms. Steele knocked out of the park. Natalia Lepore Hagan plays sexpot Annie, one of the chorus girls who befriends Peggy Sawyer. The tall and beautiful Ms. Hagan adds extra attitude and has real presence onstage. I would have actually liked to see her play Peggy Sawyer.
I can’t say enough good things about the musical staging and new choreography by Randy Skinner. Every number was full of energy and impressive tap dancing routines. It’s not easy to get 40 dancers on a stage in perfect unison, but the inventive choreography highlighted the terrific dancers.
Costumes by Roger Kirk were also very well done. The 1930’s style costumes were flattering on the ladies and the men looked sharp in suits. The sequined costumes for the dance numbers were flashy and eye-catching. The gold and silver outfits in the “We’re in the Money” number were especially striking. Also, the lighting design by Ken Billington lit up the stage in bright colors. One song called “Shadow Waltz” used spotlights and backlighting to cast dancing shadows across the stage. It was a great effect and added variety to the staging.
Director Mark Bramble obviously knew the strengths and weaknesses of this show. The show opens with a peek below the curtain at the chorus kids dancing legs. He staged all the dance numbers in an exciting way, and every scene change happened quickly and efficiently. Act One drags in a few places, but Act Two builds momentum from start to finish. 42nd Street is a crowd-pleasing show that will make you want to get up and tap dance out of the theater.
Dallas Summer Musicals
Fair Park Music Hall
909 1st Ave, Dallas, TX 75210
June 28th – July 10th, 2016
Tickets: For dates, times, and ticket info go to www.dallassummermusicals.org or call the box office at 214-691-7200.