January 2, 2004
First-class show at the Centre
Toe-tapping 42nd Street singing is outmatched by the stellar dancing.
LAURI DONAHUE SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH BULLETIN
The play 42nd Street opens with so many dancing feet, it
sounds like a flock of typewriters just landed on the stage. The
sheer size of the imported American cast raises serious balance
of trade issues regarding softshoe-softwood parity.
This is a Broadway show on the scale you'd see on the real 42nd
Street, with first-class production values, stellar dancing and
dazzling costumes. In fact, after 18 months on the road and 40 cities,
it's almost too perfect.
The story's about a young aspiring chorus girl, Peggy Sawyer, who
comes to the big city in the midst of the Depression in hopes of
getting a job in a real Broadway show despite her complete
lack of previous stage experience. Of course she winds up not only
in the line but with the lead role after the star breaks her leg.
It's a cliché, but even clichés have to start somewhere.
Leaving aside the Cinderella story, this one was launched by an
obscure (and rather gritty) 1928 novel, which led to a 1933 RKO
movie musical and then to this stage production, which won Tonys
for best musical in 1981 and best musical revival in 2001.
The book is co-written by Jewish author Michael Stewart (Bye,
Bye Birdie, Hello, Dolly!) with lyrics by Al Dubin (also
Jewish). The whole thing retains an authentically hokey '30s feel.
It's fluff but fluff tempered by the grim reality of the
Not that the plot really matters. This show is about the dancing
and in a distant second the singing. The performers
are outfitted with mics from the eyebrows to the ankles, with every
syllable and stomp so loud and clear they can probably hear it at
the Starbucks on the other side of Robson.
How could any feet resist tapping to the rhythms of "Lullaby
of Broadway" and "42nd Street"? Some of the other
songs ("Go into Your Dance," "Getting out of Town,"
"Keep Young and Beautiful") are more obscure, but all
provide opportunities for the talented cast to strut their stuff
and show off their sherbet-colored and/or sequined costumes. (The
dressers deserve a Tony of their own for the many quick changes.)
Shannon O'Bryan as Peggy manages to stand out even in an outstanding
corps of dancers. She does everything everyone else does
but twice as fast. And she can sing, too.
Which is more than can be said for Daren Kelly as Julian Marsh,
the producer of Pretty Lady, the show within a show. He's a compelling
presence in his pin-striped three-piece suits, but his voice sounds
especially muddy in contrast to O'Bryan's crystal tones.
Another problem voice belongs to the diva character Dorothy Brock,
played by Marcy McGuigan. Her breathy, mannered style is fine when
the show's making fun of her pretensions, as in the gimmicky "Shadow
Waltz," but almost an insult to a song as lovely as "I
Only Have Eyes for You" through perhaps it's meant to
Speaking of eye candy, the sets are terrific. At one point, a giant
mirror descends over the stage to reflect the dancers and I was
gripped with the fear that if it broke, the entire Lower Mainland
would be cursed with seven years of bad luck. (I was relieved to
learn that it's actually made out of mylar.)
So what's the problem with perfection? Maybe that it's distancing.
You get the feeling that these performers are so stuck in their
flawless grooves that they're just going through the motions. The
show surely has legs, but it could do with a little more heart.
42nd Street is at the Centre in Vancouver for the Peforming
Arts through Jan. 3. Tickets are $45-$85, available at 604-280-3311
Lauri Donahue is an award-winning playwright and the rebbetzin
of Beth Tikvah Congregation in Richmond.