The BDT's 42nd Street is a tinseled treat for the holidays
42nd Street is a big, glitzy show filled with great songs and requiring dozens of tapping feet. So I settled in for the Boulder's Dinner Theatre production with some trepidation. The playing area here isn't huge, nor is the pool of singers and dancers infinite. The theater does tend to punch above its weight: Amy Campion's sets are always well designed, clever and functional; Linda Morken has shown again and again that there's pretty much nothing she can't do in the way of costume design; Neal Dunfee leads a crack — though small — orchestra; and the performers always exude an enthusiasm so infectious that it compensates for any shortcomings and the audience can't help catching it. But still, 42nd Street? Really?
Over the years, BDT has never stopped changing and evolving. Stalwart members we've always loved have grown older and less suitable for ingenue and young leading-man roles, even as their work got deeper and richer; a few have disappeared from the scene or appear on the BDT stage far too seldom. But others perform here regularly, and many grace the current production: the indispensable Joannie Brosseau, who plays writer Maggie Jones, and whose focused energy and smartly perky persona always brighten the stage; fleet-footed Scott Beyette, appearing as the mature love interest of supposedly over-the-hill leading lady Dorothy Brock; and, as Brock, Alicia Dunfee, a regular who's one of the most compelling actresses around. We've seen Brian Norber many times in this venue — as the wolfish con-man lead in The Music Man, for example, and the wistful musical-comedy aficionado of The Drowsy Chaperone, and we'll never forget his appearance in a silver dress and five-inch heels for The Producers. In 42nd Street, wearing an outsized cowboy hat and a paunch, he becomes Dorothy's moneybags sugar daddy. John Scott Clough, another familiar face, gives cynical producer Julian Marsh dignity and depth. And I seriously believe that if any show lacked Wayne Kennedy's kindly, humorous presence — he's Bert Berry, another writer, this round — the entire audience would erupt in fury.
But new blood also has to be found, especially for a big show like this. In the past, artistic director Michael J. Duran has brought in various youngsters for his ingenue roles, some brilliant (where are you, Maggie Sczekan?) and some disappointing. For 42nd Street, he needed triple-threat performers to play leads Peggy and Billy. He found them in Katie Ulrich, a dancing, singing firecracker, full of brio and vitality (though I'm hoping she'll develop more warmth and vulnerability as the run progresses) and Johnny Stewart, a University of Colorado business and dance major who's never before appeared at BDT. Duran also assembled a scintillating and largely unfamiliar chorus, notably Meggan Herod, who appeared on this stage at the age of ten in Gypsy and has grown up statuesque and beautiful; tiny, lithe Isabel Day Webb; and the enchantingly huge-eyed Tracey Zimmerman. He handed over choreographic duties to Tracy Warren as well as casting her as Anytime Annie, and she turns out to be as good a choreographer as she is an actress — which is very good indeed.
42nd Street is one of those musicals that spoofs the genre while at the same time providing all its shmaltzy pleasures. Peggy is a star-struck youngster who arrives in New York to audition for a musical called Pretty Lady. Oddly, even though she's clearly a budding star whose career will completely dwarf theirs when she takes over for an injured Dorothy (you had to know that was coming, so this is not a spoiler), all the other hoofers adore her, and they sweetly encourage her to persevere in the face of all obstacles. Julian Marsh falls hard for her, as does leading man Billy. By the end, her charm and talent have even melted Dorothy's stony heart.
But the plot is just a pretext for a string of exhilarating musical numbers. I don't think it's possible to get tired of " Lullaby of Broadway," especially not when it's wonderfully performed; other showstoppers include "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me," "We're in the Money" and a host of others. With songs like this and a wealth of on-stage talent, this 42nd Street is a glittering, tinseled present to brighten the holiday season and endure into next year. Really.
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