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How Can You Say No? This April, Shuffle Off to Cove-da-le for “42nd Street”

Review by Jack Crumley of “42nd Street”: Covedale

It’s not hard to understand why musicals during The Great Depression were such a thing. It was a chance for audiences to forget about their problems for awhile, get some jokes, maybe some commentary on current society, and be left with a couple catchy tunes in their heads. “Anything Goes”, “The Cradle Will Rock”, and “The Wizard of Oz” all hit either the stage or the screen during this period, but arguably the ultimate Depression-era, glitzy, Hollywood musical hit movie houses at the start in 1933: “42nd Street”. (“Footlight Parade”, starring James Cagney, also came out in ‘33, but a stage adaptation of it isn’t currently playing at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and 42nd Street is).

Directed by Lloyd Bacon (who also directed “Footlight Parade”), with music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, “42nd Street” tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a young woman fresh off the train from Allentown, PA, looking to dance on Broadway. She’s wide-eyed and enthusiastic, and even though she misses the audition for the upcoming show “Pretty Lady,” her fellow dancing girls recognize her talent and convince the director, Julian Marsh, to give her a shot. Sawyer runs afoul of the show’s star, Dorothy Brock, and she accidentally injures the diva just before opening night. After Marsh fires Sawyer, the rest of the cast convinces him to hire her back to play the lead. A marathon rehearsal later, with a bit of encouragement from Brock, and Sawyer rises to the occasion and becomes the Broadway star she hitherto only dreamt of being.

The cast for this production at the Covedale is huge. I’m truly impressed by the way Director and Choreographer Maggie Perrino juggled so many people on stage (not to mention balancing it with her other job as theatre director at The Carnegie in Covington). This show is loaded with big song and dance numbers, almost Busby Berkeley-esque. “Overture,” “Shadow Waltz,” “Getting Out of Town,” and “We’re In the Money” all are songs that have at least a dozen people on stage singing and dancing (and that’s just in Act I). My knowledge of specific dance steps is ~limited~ at best, but the performances in this show included kick lines, ballet, tap, and a lot more. This show has the most challenging, advanced choreography I’ve seen in my time reviewing shows for LCT. And every last dancer does it with a smile.

Not only is this cast huge, but it’s hugely talented. Nearly everyone in this show is singing a song as they also hoof their way through the aforementioned choreography, and Perrino was able to bring back a lot of familiar faces. I recognized several actors in the ensemble whom I’ve seen easily handle the lead roles in other shows: Faustina Gorham (“Cabaret”), Elliot Handkins (“The Graduate”), and Kyle Taylor (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) jumped out at me the most. This show rests on the shoulders of Hope Pauly’s Peggy Sawyer, and she is outstanding. Her singing voice and her speaking voice both give a sense of youth and inner strength. And since she starts out as a chorus girl, she, too, is dancing like crazy on stage before her character is tapped to step up to be the lead. Peggy has to be shy, determined, graceful, outspoken, fearful, and confident in this show, and Pauly sells each emotion as much as she’s selling every dance step.

It was nice to see Marissa Poole back on stage with her “Graduate” co-star, Handkins, but in the role of Dorothy Brock, it was also nice to hear Poole’s singing voice. Poole’s work on stage, screen, and radio has honed her talent, and you can hear it in her spoken dialogue and her singing. Her character softens by the end, and her performance of “About a Quarter to Nine” was a sweet coda for a previously cruel character.

Also showcasing an outstanding voice is Justin Glaser as Julian Marsh. Just like his time as Daddy Warbucks in 2017’s Annie, Glaser brings his towering size and commanding baritone voice to this show, delivering lines that would come off as cheesy if said by an actor with less gusto. Glaser shines in the Act II song “Lullaby of Broadway.”

Some other actors I want to mention by name because their work jumped out at me: Josh Heard as Andy Lee is often featured as a dancer in this show, and he has an excellent tap solo near the beginning. Chris Logan Carter (“Young Frankenstein”) as Bert Berry has excellent chemistry with Kate Mock Elliott’s Maggie Jones. It’s hard to miss the huge smile and featured footwork of Jules Shumate as Anytime Annie, a character who’s part grows as the show moves along. And this is Matthew Nassida’s first time on the Covedale stage, but his powerful tenor voice singing Billy Lawlor’s songs will stay with me.

Once again, for the season-ending show, Costume Designer Caren Brady must’ve been saving up her budget. The bevy of actors all have multiple costumes, with the dancers in the ensemble likely putting on upwards of ten outfits over the course of the show. Going from street clothes, to rehearsal garb, to the the flashy stage costumes for the performance of “Pretty Lady” also means these actors have to execute some of the fastest costume changes I’ve ever seen.

Scenic Designer Brett Bowling’s stage pieces are mainly about the “Pretty Lady” performance, with a couple rotating flats on the side for smaller dressing room and diner scenes. Denny Reed’s lighting design plays up the radiance of a razzle-dazzle Broadway show. “42nd Street” is the quintessential story of “‘midwest newcomer with a dream’ hits the bigtime,” an especially American concept that has put more wannabe actors on a bus headed to the city than any big name director or hot new script. The musical came out before so many tried and failed over the decades since, allowing cynicism set to in, and it is unabashedly, unironically selling its story with every line, every note, and every step. Several characters smoke on stage (using what appears to be a vape prop), but there is no foul language or inappropriate-for-children content.

“42nd Street” plays Thursday through Sunday at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts now through April 28, 2019. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa