If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

TAPS ARE TOPS AT CABARET’S “42ND STREET”

What recession? We’re clearly “in the money” if the Downtown Cabaret Theatre’s current holiday offering of the venerable Broadway musical “42nd Street” is any indication. The Bridgeport venue is getting a much-needed jolt of renewed energy with this vivacious rendering guaranteed to put you in a good mood. And, as the old movie posters used to scream, “Boy do we need it now!”

You know the story: small-town, wide-eye ingénue Peggy Sawyer stumbles into the chorus of a pre-Broadway musical and wows everyone with her tap talent. But during one of the final rehearsals before opening night, the over-the-hill diva of the show twists her ankle forcing uber director Julian Marsh to thrust the unknown starlet into the spotlight (“You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!”).

In the central role of Peggy, Melinda Vaggione strikes just the right balance between naïve waif and ambitious hoofer. She’s a delight and brings fierce conviction and boundless energy to the demanding title song which climaxes the show. All the dancers in this non-Equity production reveal few weak links and, though this is also a truncated version of the original, I didn’t miss any of the trimmed dialogue. The 90 minutes fly by – you won’t feel cheated.

Instead, song after familiar song is bound to please: “Go Into Your Dance”, “We’re in the Money”, “Getting Out of Town”, “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” and “Lullaby of Broadway” are all sheer delight. The ensemble is particularly strong and Lauren Fijol has a lot of fun lording it over everyone as the production’s elder star, Dorothy Brock, a theatre diva cut from the Gloria Swanson mold.

Where the show somewhat falters is with the casting of Rutledge Varley in the prime role of Julian Marsh. Mr. Varley lacks the bombast, passion and gusto needed to make the role command attention and strike fear in the chorus. You do not want a passive Julian Marsh in “42nd Street” (especially with the memory of the late, great Jerry Orbach’s Marsh still fresh in many theatergoers’ minds). But it should also be pointed out that Varley does deliver a glorious - albeit brief - rendition of the final title song at curtain that hints of a far better performance being held back.

At times we are reminded that this is a low-budget version of the Broadway classic. In Bridgeport, the music is recorded and not live. However, since orchestras are rarely on view during musicals these days, most audiences are likely unaware of the absence.

The Cabaret’s crack lighting designer, Hugh Hallinan, provides another great example of his skill and Andi Lyn’s costumes can also not be faulted. Director Steve Steiner and Choreographer Paula Hammons Sloan have worked very hard and mostly succeed (with a fraction of the budget) in staying true to the original vision of director/choreographer Gower Champion’s beloved revival. Pack some fruitcake and go. It’s a holiday treat.

“42nd Street” continues at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre through January 4, 2009. For further information and ticket reservations call 203.576.1636 or visit www.downtowncabaret.org.

Tom Holehan is co-founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tom@stratford.lib.ct.us. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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