Musicals at Richter

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42nd Street

Critic's Review :

Dancing keeps 'Street' afloat

By Chesley Plemmons
NEWS-TIMES THEATER CRITIC

Some "dancing fools" are tapping their hearts out at Richter Park, where "42nd Street," the season finale for Musicals at Richter, is playing through Aug. 12.

When they're tapping their precision routines and when the principal performers are singing the melodious songs "Lullaby of Broadway," "You're Getting to Be A Habit With Me" or "We're In the Money" everything is peachy.

But the bounce of the show is constantly flattened by the dated not just nostalgic book, which cuts short the liveliness the players so energetically stir up. And the pace of director Richard L. Sanders hasn't compensated for those dry patches.

In fairness, the production has been beset with rehearsal problems. Being rained out three times in the first weekend, including the dress rehearsal, could certainly account for the sluggishness.

Nothing improves a performance like playing before an audience, and the second act did tighten quite noticeably at the performance I attended.

The script by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, however, which tries to lovingly capture the camp innocence of the 1933 movie of the same name, was never very stimulating and most of the jokes fall flat. Too much reverence for a passe script is not always a good thing. The best approach is to keep things moving fast.

The sentimental and purposely silly story concerns the rise of Peggy Sawyer from unknown to overnight star. A young hoofer recently arrived in New York City from Allentown, Pa., she goes on when the leading lady is accidentally injured. It's a Valentine to show-business make-believe that just needs a good rewrite.

Decidedly on the plus side is the show's choreography. It's dazzling and the chorus of 20 rarely misses a beat. The clever dance patterns by Nikki Sanders, who also plays the ingenue Peggy Sawyer, were modeled on those Gower Champion created for the original Broadway show in 1980.

While the story of Peggy and her backstage boyfriend Billy Lawlor, played by perky song and dance performer Matthew Johnston, is the sweet heart of the story, it's Dorothy Brock, a famed but possibly over-the-hill actress, who dominates the stage.

Priscilla Squiers is Dorothy and she catches all the vanity and arrogance that is often the baggage of stardom. It's a role the audience loves to hate in the beginning but later finds warm and sympathetic.

Squiers' professionally trained voice can soar when the song calls for it and she puts a lot of power and polish on the title song, "42nd Street."

Nikki Sanders makes a winning Peggy, dancing with Ruby Keeler abandon and precision and singing like a true star in the making. She and Squiers team up late in the show for its best-sung number, "About a Quarter To Nine."

Juliette Garrison and Donald Leona play a pair of songwriters who resemble Betty Comdon and Adolf Green and have fun as newlyweds on a Niagara Falls-bound train singing "Shuffle Off To Buffalo" in the company of a bevy of scantily clad beauties.

Garrison has a smart-aleck style that brightens many a moment.

As the success-driven producer Julian Marsh and looking faintly like David Merrick, who produced the show on Broadway, Al Recchia effectively lends the one real touch of drama to the show and sings well to boot.

The costumes are by Nikki Sanders as well and they have the splash of a Busby Berkley movie. Director Sanders, her father, has cleverly staged the opening number of the second act, "There's A Sunny Side to Every Situation," as a lights-on/lights-off chorus line.

Lighting was somewhat unsure and the orchestra suffered from a lack of rehearsal, sounding less polished than musicians for the season's previous shows.

"42nd Street" continues through Aug. 12 at Musicals at Richter, Richter Park, 100 Aunt Hack Road, Danbury. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8:30 p.m.; the grounds open at 7:15 for picnicking. Chairs are available by reservation. Tickets are $15, seniors $12, students and children $10. Call the box office at (203) 748-6873.

copyright © 2001 by The News-Times

 

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