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Flash Review 3, 5-3; Those Dancing
"42nd Street" Back on You Know Where
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung
Seeing the new production of "42nd
Street" at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts last night was like going back
in time to a more elegant era in my mythological, ideal New York City. Broadway
was a gleaming repository of the world's best and brightest performers who found
feast or famine at Fate's whim. And the Broadway theaters were opulent and spacious,
not the least bit tatty or cramped. The evening's circumstances conspired with
a beautifully produced and performed show to create a memorable Broadway experience.
The previous production of "42nd
Street" bowed in 1980 and ran for eight years. (The theme song is so insistent,
and the marketing so pervasive, that you are not alone in thinking it has been
running ever since.) Mark Bramble directs the new production, with musical staging
and new choreography by Randy Skinner, who was an assistant on the 1980 production,
and who has revived Gower Champion's sparkling dances from the original. Glamorous
costumes by Roger Kirk are set off nicely against sets by Douglas Schmidt, bathed
in lighting by Paul Gallo.
Shows about shows are currently pretty
failsafe (see "Kiss Me, Kate"), if at times predictable. The basics of the plot,
set in the '30s, feature a beautiful, talented young hoofer who steps into a Broadway
show's lead role suddenly vacated by an injured -- and troublesome -- diva. Side
stories involve men, thugs, tarnished and burnished hopes, and the pricelessness
Because the plot revolves around
a hoofer, there was plenty of hoofing to dig into. The big production numbers
were dazzling from the first curtain, which rose thigh-high to reveal dozens of,
you guessed it, tapping feet. We were treated to Esther Williams-like circular
formations viewed in a giant, tilted mirror; giant coins that turned into dance
platforms; and cascades of tappers flowing down sparkling stairs, their teeth
as shiny as their sequined costumes. Even the crowd scenes were visually poetic;
the cast in transit formed an endless, flowing chain of humanity.
I thought for sure I'd tire of tap
dance during the evening, but the choreography was nuanced and varied enough to
retain my interest. The style of tap was streamlined and updated, which charitably
distanced it from the stiff-bodied, Vaudevillean sort I've never found interesting.
And the dancers were coached to military precision without losing their own identities.
A solo by a soft-shoed thief during the song "42nd Street" was done in a style
reminiscent of Gene Kelly, all the more jazzy in contrast to tap. This character's
presence also underscored the bluesy, minor key of the title song, which normally
recalls a bright, brassy feel.
Kate Levering (Peggy) and David Elder
(Billy) had, for good reason, the biggest sections of dance. Her first go at rapid
tapping seemed virtuosic and his subtle yet readable interpretation of the music,
and his agility, were impressive. The whole cast was excellent, so it seems a
bit unfair to single out Michael Arnold, who played the dance captain. Mary Testa
shook out the cobwebs in several hilarious scenes, and Christine Ebersole shone
in the recently added song, "I Only Have Eyes For You." Michael Cumpsty played,
with jaw ajut, the whip-cracking producer.
The sound was the weakest element,
fighting pervasive miking and the dozens of tapping feet. Sometimes, however,
the sound of tapping washed over the audience like a wave, shimmering and textural.
It was difficult for a single tap dancer, whose sound was dulled and distant-feeling
in comparison, to compete with that. Let's hope that the sound can catch up to
the rest of this well-crafted production. They may have a while to figure it out.
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