Back in 1933, Broadway seats cost $4.40 a pop and performers were paid $32 a week. There is no argument that things have grown steadily since then. But one thing about New York and Broadway has remained the same -- there are still handfuls of theater hopefuls coming to the big city dreaming of seeing their names on a marquee someday.
In the Tony Award winning 42nd Street, the latest production tap dancing its way on stage at the John W. Engeman Theater through June 17th, Peggy Sawyer is that girl. A rookie actress from Allentown, PA, she quite literally bumps into the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to be part of big time director Julian Marsh's new musical. Darien Crago is instantly likeable as Peggy – bright-eyed and full of positivity. And she has every reason to be that way – the girl can dance circles around anyone without breaking a sweat (especially in the delightful dance competition between Crago and Drew Humphrey on a city street). In the right place at the right time, she gets a part in the show and more off-stage drama than she bargained for.
Much is at stake for those involved in the show, especially its director. The dashing Patrick Ryan Sullivan as Julian Marsh is hoping for a new venture to revitalize his career since the unfortunate stock market crash. Marsh runs his show like the head of a champion football team – passionately and cleverly with a no-nonsense attitude. Despite his authoritative nature, Marsh seamlessly lets a certain vulnerability slip, his grasping for the old joy that theater used to give him. Mr. Sullivan's character is given more and more depth as the show continues to evolve.
Rounding out this trifecta of main characters is Dorothy Brock, played by Christianne Tisdale. Think Uma Thurman in Smash. She's a great actress who can't sing in a musical, and Dorothy is a great singer who can't dance in a dancing extravaganza. She's also not as young as she used to be but Marsh has no choice but to cast her -- her sugardaddy (adorably played by Stephen Valenti) is putting up funds to get the show produced. Tisdale effectively channels the extremes of all diva-like behavior as she sashays across the stage but, at the same time, proving that Dorothy still has the pipes in an arresting Act One finale number.
At one point early in the show Mr. Marsh demands that the ensemble "dances until their feet fall off," and those words could not ring truer for this cast. The work of choreographer Melissa Giattano is vibrant and energetic from the first moment the audience glimpses the colorful taps dancing up a storm as the curtain begins to rise. Each number continues to top the one before it, eliciting such carefree feelings while also showing the more sensual side of tap in Act II's chilling (in a good way!) title song, "42nd Street."
Part of the fun of behind-the-scenes "musical-in-a-musical" type shows are the mini catastrophes that pop up all over the place. While there are some romantic entanglements (some sincere and others…awkward), 42nd Street does provide a steady amount of comedy as well. Ms. Tisdale as Dorothy, especially -- using well-timed facial expressions and body movement to bring humor to the stage, even funnier coming from the show's "star". (Act I's "Shadow Dance" emphasized quite a bit of this comedy through creative use of shadow and light. Dorothy literally becomes larger than life.) Marcie Reid as Maggie Jones brings her own flair for comedy as a mother hen to the ensemble and the show in general. Also noteworthy was Evan Teich and Elise Kinnon in the adorable yet farcical "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" number.
From the brilliant array of vintage costumes, well-done props (coins!), and remarkable sets (Times Square!), this production of 42nd Street rightfully channels the big Hollywood musicals of the 1930s. There's the romance, the fun, the glamour, and the endless dreams of becoming a star while at the same time pinpointing the simple joys in life – tap dancing to lunch, a lucky yellow scarf, and the importance of new friendships. A stellar cast, awe-inspiring dance numbers, and a taste of comedy work together to make for a spirited representation of 42nd Street right on Main Street in Northport.