Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Musical: 42nd Street (★★★)

By Harry Warren and Al Dubin
Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
WAAPA 2nd & 3rd Year Music Theatre students
Directed by Jason Langley
Choreographer Lisa O’Dea
Set Design by Tyler Hill
Lighting Design by Trudy O’Neill
Costume Design by Sarah Duyvestyn
Regal Theatre

Until June 24

I’ve been in raptures about recent WAAPA musical productions at the Regal, 2013’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and 2015’s Legally Blonde (2014’s West Side Story was problematic, but for good and understandable reasons – WAAPA is a school after all – and I missed last year’s Bring it On!).
It’s a shame, then, to say I was less than carried away by this year’s extravaganza, Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s 42nd Street.
The fault, though, lies almost entirely with the show, not the student showgirls and boys performing it.

There’s no need to go into too much detail about 42nd Street’s history. Despite its commercial success and many awards, it’s really a timid and shallow vehicle.

There are some decent tunes – We’re in the Money, Lullaby of Broadway, Shuffle off to Buffalo and the title song – but much of the music was soldered on to the soundtrack of the 1933 movie musical of the same name for the 1980 stage version, and the result is all cynical nostalgia and precious little flow and energy. And there’s some puerile sexism in the lyrics and dialogue that might have been passable in the ‘30s but hardly in the ’80s and certainly not now.

If you saw “Singin’ in the Rain” last year, or countless other Broadway backstagers, you’ve heard the story before, and there’s little pizazz or wit in either the principal or supporting roles to carry it.

All of which makes it a hard row to hoe for the principal cast, and they have mixed results attempting it.

Mackenzie Dunn could sing and dance the phone book; her Peggy Sawyer, the gal from Allentown Pennsylvania who starts out not even a chorine and ends up a star, is just about perfect, and she gets good support from Tom New – who has a nice glide about him – as her would-be-beau Billy Lawlor.

The chorus’s gang of four, Lorraine (Jenna Curran), Phylis (Sarah Brideson), Gladys (Meg McKibbin and especially “Anytime” Annie (the lively Kelsi Boyden) create a decent amount of whoopee, but the comic support roles, Maggie Jones and Bert Barry, have almost no comedy in them for Laura Jackson and Ben Colley to work with. Lucy Ross has a moment or two as the fading star Dorothy Brock, but Joshua White is all at sea as Julian Marsh, the supposedly tyrannical director who’s reputation is completely undeserved. It’s a gruesome part, and no-one should have to play it.

But – and it’s a big, bold, beautiful but – there’s always the hoofing. The musical numbers back in ’33 were created by Busby Berkely, and the director Jason Langley, who is otherwise content to let the schmucky storyline roll along, and the choreographer Lisa O’Dae give them the treatment; the lights (Mark Howett) come on, some spectacular costumes (Sarah Duyvestyn) come out, the band (musical director David King) strikes up, and the kids in the chorus go at it hammer and tongs.

It’s mainly tap, and all of it, from solos to line, is just dandy. Suddenly the glamour, the fun and the spark ignites, and 42nd Street transforms, as it should, into the Avenue of Dreams.

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