If there is a more perfect pairing of a theatre with a musical, Connecticut’s jewel box Goodspeed Opera House and the longtime hit, “42nd Street” are clearly a match made in musical comedy heaven. Even if this particular production results in a good not great revival, it will still please many especially those (like myself) who are putty in the hands (feet) of tap dancers!
The quintessential backstage musical, “42nd Street” introduces novice dancer Peggy Sawyer (wide-eyed Carina-Kay Louchiey) of Allentown, Pennsylvania about to get her big break in a new Broadway show. It will star diva Dorothy Brock (an imperious Kate Baldwin) and is directed by the combustible Julian Marsh (Max von Essen) who initially fires Peggy but then begs her to take over when his star becomes disabled. With a wink and a nod, all the stereotypes and clichés are firmly in place in this 1980 Broadway Tony winner with music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble based on the novel by Bradford Ropes and the 1933 Busby Berkeley film.
At Goodspeed, there is much that is right and even thrilling at times about this “42nd Street” beginning with the work by director/choreographer Randy Skinner who pushes those dancing feet in a spectacular opening number that nearly stops the show before it starts. There has always been a strong company of dancers at Goodspeed and it’s also nice to see the theatre has finally gotten the diversity memo and employs actors who represent a cross-section of America. The women, in particular, are quite strong here. Louchiey is the triple threat of dancer/singer/actress the role demands showcased impressively late in the musical with her performance of the title song. Longtime Broadway star Baldwin delivers the goods as the formidable diva who brings stirring pathos to her best song, “I Only Have Eyes for You”. Lisa Howard is a hoot as a writer who can also belt to beat the band.
One wishes that the handsome von Essen with his powerhouse vocals could more comfortably embrace the clichés of his character and be bigger-than-life. There is no need for subtlety with this role. The same is true for Blake Stadnik’s brash tenor, Billy Lawlor, who also has the vocal chops but seems tentative in his acting. The less said about David Jennings’ clownish and unfunny Abner Dillon, Dorothy’s sugar daddy, the better and Patrick Oliver Jones is surprisingly bland as her secret lover.
Best of all at Goodspeed, though, are the remarkable series of beautiful projections designed by Shawn Duan who manages a miracle of sorts making the theatre’s postage-stamp size stage look expansive. In perfect harmony with scenic designer Michael Carnahan, the settings have rarely looked better at Goodspeed. Kara Harmon’s period costuming and Cory Pattak’s lighting also deserve high marks as does Adam Souza’s polished music direction. Director Randy Skinner won a Tony nomination for his work on the original Broadway production and Goodspeed is fortunate to have him at the helm. Despite some reservations, you will no doubt have a good time at his spiffy production.
“42nd Street” continues at Goodspeed, 6 Main Street, East Haddam, Connecticut through November 6. Masks are encouraged but not required at all performances. For further information, call the box office at: 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.