In the Hollywood-musical-turned-Broadway show ”42nd Street,” Peggy Sawyer, a young girl from Allentown, PA, dreams of being in a New York Broadway show in the theatre district of 42nd Street. The show fluctuates between the challenges she faces as a Broadway newcomer, her interactions with various people she meets in show business, and her unexpected triumphs towards stardom. It is a show within a show since most of the musical numbers are part of the fictional musical, “Pretty Lady.”
…tip-top tap dancing, brilliantly staged…gorgeous…animates its audience with…can-do Broadway spirit.
The songs relate to the plot line of “Pretty Lady,” but sometimes refer to elements of the “42nd Street” plot. For example, the “We’re in the Money” number comes at an optimistic moment when it seems “Pretty Lady” will be a big “money-maker” on Broadway. The story takes place in 1933 during Depression, the hardships of which the musical does not ignore. Yet the focus here is on the era’s vicarious longing for luxury and splendor via the dream factories of Broadway and Hollywood. This is seen especially in “We’re in the Money” which pulls out all stops. All cast and production team talents are showcased with tip-top tap dancing, brilliantly staged by co-choreographers Stephanie Wood and show director Penny Ayn Maas. They pay homage to Busby Berkley’s cinematic style of whirling formations. There is great attention to detail as well, such as the splashy designs of dollar bills decorating lapel flaps created by costume designer Erin Welsh. Her costumes were gorgeous in “Dames” as each woman walked out in spectacular, blue evening dresses. Neon skyscraper backdrops by scenic designer Frank Foster add to the 1930s period charm. Collins Rush as Billy Lawlor dances energetically with an impressive ensemble behind him, many carrying enormous silver dollars which turn out to be dance platforms.
Rebecca Carroll plays Peggy with spunk and brings out the inspiring innocence of the bright-eyed, aspiring performer. She is fabulous in her role—dancing, singing, and quite naturally exuding her perky belief that it is a girl’s dream to even be “be a speck of dust” in a Broadway show that will entertain thousands of people. This Patrick A’Hearn-produced show animates its audience with this can-do Broadway spirit.
Andrea McArdle, the major Broadway star who pioneered the title role in “Annie” in 1977, joins the cast as Dorothy Brock. She lends the part authenticity as well as her strong voice and commanding stage presence. She shines particularly in a torch song version of “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Kathy Halenda as Maggie has a wonderful comic persona and powerful voice in “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.” Another standout was Christopher Sanders, dominating a wonderful “Lullaby of Broadway.” As Marsh, he exudes charisma as a Broadway director, spouting truisms such as “Not all scenery has been arranged; we will be adding more as we go along.” Here he is speaking of “Pretty Lady,” but it is also an apropos description of this production where the scenery becomes more ornate as the show progresses.
Overall, the 10-piece band directed by Carson Eubank is very good, especially when evoking a mournful saxophone solo in the title song and imitating the Guy Lombardo, sweet vibrato reed section sound in “You’re Getting To Be a Habit With Me.” For the overture and the splashier, showier numbers, a larger orchestra might have better reflected the epic scope of the stunning dance numbers. The splendid ensemble tap-dancers are on hand—tap dancing is ubiquitous in this musical—to serve almost as an additional instrument of the orchestra. The closing number mixes some ballet with tap dancing, reminding one of extended ballet sequences by Gene Kelly in such movies as “Singing in the Rain” and “American in Paris.” Last but not least, McArdle and Carroll have a wonderful duet in “About A Quarter to Nine” (a song associated with 1920s and 1930s superstar Al Jolson) and make it their own.
Running time: Approximately two hours and 40 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
“42nd Street” runs through September 10, 2023 at The Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Pkwy, Fredericksburg, VA 22406. For more information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at (540) 370-4300 or go online. Masks are optional.