Thursday, February 20, 2003

42nd Street (Playhouse Square Center)


As one of the key songs of the show, ‘42ND STREET’ states, “Come along and listen to the lullaby of Broadway.” Come along and thoroughly enjoy ‘42ND STREET’ at the Palace Theatre in Cleveland.

‘42ND STREET’ is the third longest running American musical in Broadway history. In 1980, when it opened it ushered in the new age of theatrical spectacle with a cast of 54, 750 costumes and dozens of stage effects. Don’t expect to see such ambience on the Palace stage, but you won’t be disappointed. The touring show is first class. Due to a special contract arrangement with Actor’s Equity, the production company was able to mount a show with a huge cast, gorgeous costumes, wonderful sets, and a proficient orchestra. The end result is a feel-good evening of theatre which features fine voices, good acting, and exciting dancing.

As much fun as the show is, and as great a reputation as it has, its history is not happy. When original producer David Merrick tried to raise the money to mount the show, potential investors told him the project was doomed because of the costs of hiring the huge cast and paying for the huge production requirements. When it finally went into previews at the Kennedy Center in D.C. the show was met with a poor response. The director, Gower Champion, was too ill to recreate the production. When ‘42ND STREET’ came to Broadway it mysteriously went back into rehearsal. The opening date was set back, usually a sign that a production is in deep trouble. The night the show opened, Champion died. In spite of all its troubled past, the opening night reviews stated,"’42ND STREET’ Paved In Gold,""An Absolute Knockout!,” “The Unexpected Triumph of the Season!,” and “Virtually Nonstop Pleasures!.” The combination of the reviews and Champion's tragic death pushed the show into sellout status.

From the toe-tapping inspired overture, to its exciting conclusion it’s pretty hard to sit quietly in your seat during the show. With songs such as “You’re Getting To Be a Habit With Me,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby on Broadway,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” the show has one of musical theatre’s greatest scores.

Based on the classic 1933 movie musical of the same name, ‘42ND STREET ‘ tells the story of a starry-eyed young actress named Peggy Sawyer who has come to audition for the new Julian Marsh musical that is about to open on Broadway. Unfortunately, Peggy can't seem to work up the nerve to walk through the stage door until it's too late--the audition is over. But Peggy soon catches the eye of the director, and when the chorus turns up one girl short, Peggy gets her big break. She can't seem to stay in the good graces of the show's ageing leading lady. The situation only gets worse, or better, on opening night, when another dancer accidentally pushes Peggy into the leading lady who falls and breaks her ankle. The furious director fires Peggy. Discouraged and ready to give up all her dreams of becoming a star, Peggy packs her bags and heads for the train station, but fate has other plans and Peggy turns out to be a star. Yes, this is the stuff of which Broadway dreams are made.

The touring production is blessed with some outstanding individual performances to go along with exceptional chorus dancing and singing. As Peggy Sawyer, Catherine Wreford displays a wonderful singing voice and is a superb dancer. She lights up the stage. Patrick Ryan Sullivan displays wonderful stage presence and powerful vocal abilities as Julian Marsh. Blair Ross carries off the difficult role as Dorothy Brock with ease. Patti Mariano is delightful as the supposed writer of the show. Dexter Jones controls the stage as the stage manager. Though Robert Spring, who portrays Billy Lawlor dances well, his singing and acting aren’t up to the level of the rest of the leads.

Capsule judgment: If you love old-time musicals; if you go to the theatre to have a good time if you want to see a quality level production, then, dance down to the Palace Theatre and join the crowds cheering “42ND STREET.”