Review: ‘42nd Street’ is tap happy at Goodspeed
I left Goodspeed Musicals’ production of “42nd Street” feeling happy.
And I’m guessing I wasn’t alone.
It’s that kind of show, buoyed by a soundtrack of famous tunes (“We’re in the Money” to “Lullaby of Broadway”) and a comic story that’s all about dreaming big. The production is sunny and cheerful and upbeat.
But when you come down to it, it’s all about the dance.
“42nd Street” is packed with top-notch numbers. When the curtain lifted on furiously tapping feet (a signature “42nd Street” moment), you could feel it charge up the audience. After maybe a minute, the curtain went fully up, and the theatergoers applauded. At the end of that blistering opening, they cheered.
The crowd seemed to appreciate the dancing all the way through to the no-holds-barred finale to the song “42nd Street,” which had folks in the auditorium on their feet for a standing ovation.
The director and choreographer of this outstanding production is Randy Skinner, and he is plenty familiar with “42nd Street.” He assisted director/choreographer Gower Champion on the original 1980 Broadway version and has been involved in all major productions since then — including earning a Tony nomination for best choreography for the 2001 Broadway revival.
In short: He knows his stuff.
But he doesn’t just repeat the past. He brings new ideas and a fresh spirit to the enterprise.
Come back a star!
If you don’t know “42nd Street,” here’s the plot: Set in 1933, it’s a tried-and-true tale of a young woman named Peggy Sawyer who yearns to become a dancer on Broadway. Through incidents and accidents, she ends up involved with a new musical titled “Pretty Lady” that’s about to open. Can it succeed? It’s run by no-nonsense producer Julian Marsh, and it stars diva Dorothy Brock.
Sawyer befriends her fellow hoofers, but she runs afoul of Brock. Sawyer ultimately gets her chance to take on a lead role, inspiring Marsh to send her out onstage with the immortal line about her going out there a youngster and needing to come back a star.
The stage musical features music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, with a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. It’s based on the Bradford Ropes novel and the 1933 movie version.
Improving on a classic
While the heart of the show remains the same, this version is smaller than previous ones (necessary for the Goodspeed’s tiny stage), but it hardly feels lesser than. The space is used smartly, and all the dancers navigate it well — fluidly executing gravity-defying moves, maneuvering around the stage effortlessly and barely seeming to even breathe hard.
This production is notable, too, for the decision to return the character of Brock to her roots as a dancer as well as a singer. (The actress who played the role in the original Broadway version wasn’t a dancer, as the character was in the movie, and the part had remained a non-dancing one since.)
While that’s a wise move, the real news here is the actress who plays Brock. Kate Baldwin is a Broadway star — she was nominated for Tonys for two of her performances, in the 2017 production of “Hello, Dolly!” with Bette Midler and in 2009’s “Finian’s Rainbow” — and she’s simply divine. Her singing shimmers with a crystal beauty, and, boy, can she nuance lyrics (just listen to her have her way with “I Only Have Eyes for You”). Her comic flair is keen, as Brock moves between prima donna self-importance, angry frustration and lovestruck.
Carina-Kay Louchiey, meanwhile, makes for a perfect Peggy Sawyer. Her Peggy is bright-eyed and guileless, but with clear star potential. Louchiey has crazy tap-dancing ability and a velvety singing voice.
Max von Essen infuses Marsh, who is sometimes played as a one-note character, with a humanity under his hard-charging-producer exterior. (Thank goodness the time has passed when the relationship between the much-older boss Marsh and underling Sawyer was treated like a romance; here, it’s not played that way, though his kissing her to get an appropriate acting reaction for “Pretty Lady” would never pass a #MeToo test.)
Among the production’s other modifications is its use of projections designed by Shawn Duan. Often, instead of sliding sets on and off the stage, images appear on the back stage wall of what look like old photos bring us to New York streets or to a cavernous train station. They are quite effective, including during “Shadow Waltz,” in which Baldwin dances with the shadows of two men in the projection on the back wall before real men join her onstage — clever.
IF YOU GO
What: “42nd Street”
Where: The Goodspeed, 6 Main St., East Haddam
When: Through Nov. 6; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wed., 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 3 and 8 p.m. Sat., and 2 p.m. Sun.; also, 6:30 p.m. this Sunday and 2 p.m. Oct. 25
Contact: (860) 873-8668, goodspeed.org