Thirties Something

It takes a little taste and a lot of guts to mount a 1920s or 1930s musical--and a keen artistic eye to keep it true to its period. The Country Dinner Playhouse's vivacious 42nd Street is truer to that dazzling dance era than most. A pretender like One Foot on the Floor, at the Denver Center Theatre Company--a failed effort to set a French farce in 1930s Hollywood--illustrates how easy it is to get the era wrong. The Boulder Dinner Theatre offers a much more successful imitation of the 1920s in My One and Only, but though its song-and-dance numbers hark back to the jazz age's tap-dance sensations, its updated script is too crass to achieve the proper period feel.

Not that the late Twenties and early Thirties were straitlaced. Popular movies and plays of the day, especially comedies, were riddled with risque innuendos, but they were mainly bawdy, not nasty. And 42nd Street gets most of that right--erring a trifle on the side of restraint, maybe, but otherwise providing spectacular tap-dancing fun.

It's 1933, and the Great Depression has left a lot of Broadway babies out in the cold. Even the impresarios have taken a dive, and only a few are left to struggle back from the brink. One of the best of this lot, Julian Marsh, has cornered an angel--and all he has to do in return for the investor's dough is to cast the moneyman's bimbo in the lead. Fortunately, bimbo Dorothy Brock can belt 'em out with the best. She's also got a big ego and a chip on her shoulder, and she can't dance. But her Sugar Daddy is footing the bill, and the Kids in the Chorus can cover whatever she lacks on the hoof.

Meanwhile, sweet Peggy Sawyer arrives from somewhere in outer Pennsylvania, a fabulous talent just waiting to be discovered. She hasn't eaten recently, so when she gets her tryout, she faints, instantly arousing Dorothy's dislike. When Dorothy's true love (not Sugar Daddy, that is) offers Peggy a helping arm and a little kindness, Dorothy's suspicions are aroused as well.

Mr. Marsh won't stand for complications on his set, so he has a couple of Mafia types shoo away lover boy and takes the show out of town. But out of town is where lover boy is headed, and Dorothy tracks him down like a dog. When she breaks her ankle in rehearsal, she blames it on Peggy, and Marsh fires the kid on the spot. But everybody knows that with Dorothy unable to stand, only one doll can save the show.

Reyna von Vett makes a nicely shrewish Dorothy. Her voice is rich and layered--she can be sweet and silky when she sings a love song or belt out earth and fire in sliding, jazzy notes. The only real disappointment in this production is that she doesn't get to sing the showstopper, "42nd Street." She's the only performer in the show really equipped to do it justice.

Cydney Rosenbaum's voice is a bit thin for the demanding Peggy Sawyer role--she needs a touch of Von Vett's earthy fire. But her tap dancing is terrific--light as feathers, smooth as mousse. Marcus Waterman isn't much of a singer, either, but he's fun to watch as the sharp, sexy Julian Marsh. And Randy St. Pierre, who plays Waterman's rival for Peggy, is more than capable of balancing the singing score.

This is the kind of glitzy show that requires plenty of character actors, and Sue Leiser as the songwriter and T. David Rutherford as the Sugar Daddy give two of the most engaging performances. Best of all is Heidi Morrow, a ferocious tap dancer with a powerful voice, as Anytime Annie, the sexpot and pep-talker who rescues innocent Peggy from obscurity and flirts with the boss.

This is the best show the CDP has staged in a long time. The details have been attended to marvelously, the dance routines are complex and tricky, and the songs, by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, are as good as musical comedy gets. "Lullaby of Broadway," "We're in the Money," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and, of course, the title song are presented with a saucy humor and an exuberance that the CDP, whose productions have seemed a bit tired of late, appears to have rediscovered. This cast has a lot of "what it takes to get along."--Mason

42nd Street, through June 22 at the Country Dinner Playhouse, 6875 South Clinton Street, Englewood, 799-1410.

 
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