42nd Street, book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, based on the novel by Bradford Ropes, music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin. Directed by Dewayne Barrett. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
You've got all you need to cheer you up right there at the end of your ankles."
Marianna Ranieri-Schwarzer; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Cinderella stories abound in our culture. We love them because we need them so much. When Warner Brothers Pictures went back into the musicals business in 1932 the country needed just such a tale. They'd grown tired of musical pictures quickly and the studios had pretty much stopped making them, but a novel about a chorine who became a star overnight compelled them to risk the lack of interest and take up the cudgel once again. That film, "42nd Street" started a revolution. Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell became the young lovers everyone wanted to become. The film spawned scads of duplicates at all of the studios but Warners was the best in the black and white era at giving the depression era audiences what they needed: American Cinderellas who weren't attractive, couldn't tap dance except in gutter style and tenors whose teeth were better than their tones.
David Merrick, many years later, put that film onto the stage in a production masterminded by Gower Champion and it is that version that you can see on the circular stage at the MacHaydn Theatre in Chatham, NY. It made history in 1980 when Champion's unanticipated death was announced at the curtain call on opening night. It also had the spectacularly large chorus contingent, the largest since the 1920. Onstage at the MacHaydn another large cast is filling every inch of the theater-in-the-round platform and it makes for spectacular theater.
Two stories hold our attention. Aging star Dorothy Brock is making a comeback in "Pretty Lady" directed by the old-master of musicals, Julian Marsh. The show is financed by her sugar daddy Abner Dillon but she is secretly meeting her old partner and lover Pat Deming on the side. Brock is played in this production by Marianna Ranieri whose singing is a delight and whose acting is just fine if a bit over-the-top and whose looks are a bit of both of the same. She brings a few strengths into the picture, her fine emotional vocalism and her equally fine virulent spirit. As a somewhat older lady she also emphasizes the extreme youth of the company around her.
Even Jon Reinhold's youthful good looks can't match Ranieri's physical experience which sets the show off on an uneven kilter. His command of his onstage company of players needs to be as much from the respect that an older professional would inspire as from his talents, but Reinhold looks too young to bring this off to perfection. It's a pity, too, because he moves and presents himself with authority and his singing voice is a good one. That his Julian gets little respect from her Dorothy just seems too logical here.
The second story is about the chorus girl whose first job on Broadway leads to her being fired, then re-hired to replace the ailing Dorothy Brock. Bridget Elise Yingling plays the role of Peggy Sawyer, pert, pretty and petite (sort of) who brings about her own upgrading from cinderella to the princess by accidentally injuring Brock. Yingling is lovely, dances up a literal storm and sings so very sweetly. It's impossible not to like her Peggy, a bit less ingenuous than others in the role, and almost too savvy at moments to be taken for real. But still you like her and root for her. She's that good.
Loving her, or at least loving to want her, is Billy Lawlor, eternal juvenile in the cast, played nicely by Griffith Whitehurst. Giving their all to their roles as the show's authors and comics are Phil Sloves as Bert and Sarah Amandes as Maggie. Dan Hasty as the Texas money man Abner Dillon turns in a believable character even though he's about forty years too young for it. Ronen Bay is a fine Andy Lee, the stage-manager/assistant director working for Julian Marsh.
The true stars of this very good production are the designers. Jimm Halliday in particular has captured the on and off stage personalities of this cast of characters with costumes that look as though they cost a million depression-era dollars. Whether character clothing, or their own characters clothing, the company looks fabulous and just right for the plotted revue that Marsh is directing. Kevin Gleason has done wonderful things with the theater and the stage with his sets and set pieces that make musical numbers work so well and he has lit the show beautifully. Josh D. Smith handles the score as well as he can with a combination of instruments played by a combination of players both professional and not so much so.
The choreography of "42nd Street" always plays a major role in its success or failure and here director Dewayne Barrett has the assistance of Jennifer Marquardt-Waldner. Together they have forged a delicious set of dances, tableaux, and scenes that work so well in their pairing that there is often a seamless transition from one thing to another. In a show that runs two hours and fifteen minutes this is a beautiful thing to watch.
You will enjoy practically everything that goes on in this production. I did and I can be cynical about a property I know this well. You will be especially pleased with the combination of dancing and singing. Acting is another story, but we'll talk about that another time. Why not just enjoy what there is to enjoy!
"We're in the Money" with Griffith Whitehurst (c); photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Jon Reinhold and Bridget Elise Yingling; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
42nd Street plays at the MacHaydn Theatre, located at 1925 Route 203 in Chatham, New York, through July 20. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-392-9292 or go on line at www.machaydntheatre.org.