“42nd Street,” Downtown Cabaret,Bridgeport

Through Jan. 4, 2009

    ---Irene Backalenick

Now on stage at Downtown Cabaret is a lively “42nd Street,” a musical revival brought in from Atlantic City. Cabaret fans, who arrive laden with pizza, sushi and other edibles, combine the road show with the indoor picnic, sharing the fun with friends or family.

(The show itself goes back to a 1933 film, based on a novel by Bradford Ropes. In 1980, David Merrick took a giant risk to mount a musical version of “42nd Street” and ended with a long-running Broadway hit. No doubt Gower Champion’s direction and choreography had much to do with its success.)

This time around the show’s particular strengths lie, first, in the strong portrayal actor Rutledge Variety (yes, that’s actually his name!) gives the lead character—producer Julian Marsh. Also, the well-choreographed tap-dance numbers (courtesy of Paula Hammons Sloan) adds pizzazz to the show. And certainly those beloved Harry Warden/Al Dubin songs (among them, “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” “We’re in the Money,” and “42nd Street”) are well worth revisiting.

The story, if any one needs to be reminded, is a behind-the-scenes look at Broadway. Julian Marsh and his cohorts are about to launch a new musical, dubbed “Pretty Lady.” Auditions have already occurred when a newcomer arrives on the scene. It is the naïve little Peggy Sawyer, direct from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Somehow, in spite of herself, Peggy (who turns out to be a first-rate dancer) wangles her way into the chorus—and ultimately the lead. Melinda Vaggione, in that role, captures the freshness of Peggy and, fortunately, has her indisputable dancing skills.

The highlight of the show is that moment just before “Pretty Lady” opens. It is then that Julian Marsh delivers his off-quoted pep talk to Peggy. “Sawyer,” he says, “you are going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star.” Vaggione and Variety carry it off beautifully. As to other moments, “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” proves to be the best number, giving performers Michael LaMasa and Rachael Lee their chance to shine. Most other feature players are less than memorable in their characterizations, but so be it. They make up for that in the chorus numbers. It is a hard-working cast.

Clearly this is a road show, with Ted LeFebre’s sets suggesting a quick pack-up and move to another venue. But Andi Lyn’s costumes are right on target, as is the ever-reliable lighting design of Hugh Hallinan (the Cabaret’s Executive Producer).

Despite its limitations, this “42nd Street” does offer theatergoers a chance, perhaps for the first time, to hear the beat of those dancing feet. It’s the Avenue they’re takin’ you to—42nd Street.

This review also appears in the Connecticut Post and on: nytheaterscene.com

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