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Covedale Hearkens Back to Broadway’s Heyday in “42nd Street”

Review by Doug Iden of “42nd Street”: Covedale Theatre

“Come and meet those dancing feet.  It’s the avenue I’m taking you to, 42nd Street.”  That song tapped its way onto the Covedale Theater stage while taking you to a bygone era depicted in the 1933 movie classic of the same name.  One of hundreds of “backstage Broadway” Hollywood musicals of the day, 42nd Street tells the oft-told story of a chorus-line girl (Peggy Sawyer played by Hope Pauly) who tries to make it big on Broadway because of an injury to the star.  It takes the theater clique “break a leg” literally.

This is an old-fashioned, big production number musical full of songs and dancing that you rarely see today.  For most modern musicals, dancing is a four-letter word.  However, in its heyday, these unapologetically sentimental and somewhat corny musicals ruled Hollywood and Broadway.  And that’s ok because these shows are loud, brassy, enthusiastic and downright fun.  If you are from a certain generation, you will be very familiar with the songs of Harry Warren and Al Dubin, including “Young and Healthy”, “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me”, “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and the title song.  When the movie was adapted into a musical in 1980, additional Warren/Dubin songs such as “Lullaby of Broadway”, “Dames”, “About a Quarter to Nine” and “We’re in the Money” were included. 

Like most musicals of its day, these shows were mostly big production numbers tied together by a gossamer thin thread of a story.  Consequently, the production numbers, especially the dancing, are critical to the success of the show.  Led by Director/Choreographer Maggie Perrino, a cast of 24 people sang and danced their way admirably through the multiple song/dance routines.  Most of the dancing was classic chorus line tap dancing (ala the Rockettes) but there was also some soft shoe, waltzes and ballet mixed in. 

This is a risky type of show because it does require competence in a variety of dancing styles, and the entire ensemble is up to the task both with dancing and singing. Precision dancing with a dozen people is tough, but the moves and the timing were very good, led by Josh Heard (Andy), Royce Louden, Matthew Nasida (Billy Lawlor), Pauly as Sawyer and many more ensemble singers and dancers.  Jules Shumate as Anytime Annie and “songwriters” Maggie Jones (Kate Mock Elliott) and Bert Berry (Chris Logan Carter) provide the comic relief while contributing to the dancing and singing.

The dancing merged well with the set design by Brett Bowling and lighting by Denny Reed.  Bowling used a split stage technique, rarely seen at the Covedale, with a red curtain separating the front of the stage from the back.  The majority of the acting took place in the front stage with props on either end which were either windows or a bar and a dressing room when turned around.  When the curtain opened (sometimes completely and sometimes halfway) we could see an art deco representation of the Broadway skyline which is where most of the ensemble dancing took place. 

Five production numbers highlight the show.  My favorite was the “Shadow Waltz” which featured dancing on the stage and hoofing behind see-through screens.  The “We’re in the Money” routine featured chorus line dancing in bright green costumes by Caren Brady.  The lollapalooza number is “Lullaby of Broadway” (originally from Gold Diggers of 1935) featuring long-suffering producer Julian Marsh (Justin Glaser) singing the lead behind the dancing/singing ensemble.  Glaser has a good voice and adds a campy element to the show.  Then, the song that doesn’t really fit the show at all but is still delightful is “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”.  We see a number of curtains hanging from a replica of an old sleeping car from a train.  While singing the song, the actors open the curtains and close them, sometimes in unison and sometimes individually.  The last big number is the title song.  Marsh has fired Sawyer because he thought she had deliberately injured the star Dorothy Brock (Marissa Poole).  She’s at the train station waiting to return to Allentown, PA when Marsh tries to convince her to star in the show.  He’s not successful but the full cast suddenly appears and, through the song, convinces her to stay.  Marsh delivers the classic movie line, “Sawyer, you’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!” 

Brady has apparently blown the budget again on costumes.  Not only is there a large cast, but a vast variety of clothes including formal garb, rehearsal costumes, nightclothes, flapper outfits, etc.  There must have been a lot of quick-changes in the back.

Lest I forget the “star” of the show.  Marissa Poole plays Dorothy Brock as an aging but tyrannical and demanding ingénue whose sugar daddy (Abner Dillon played by Chris Bishop) is financing the show.  However, she is secretly in love with Pat Denning (Michael Wirick) which adds pathos to an otherwise comic character.  However, after the injury, she magnanimously counsels Peggy in the song “About a Quarter to Nine”.

If you like old-fashioned musicals with lots of spectacle, you will enjoy 42nd Street.  So, put on your dancing shoes and tap on down to the Covedale theater through April 28.