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Hear the Beat of Dancing Feet at CCM’s Latest ”42nd Street”!

Review by John Woll of “42nd Street”: CCM Musical Theatre

Cincinnati’s Broadway factory has gotten out their tap shoes at The Conservatory of Music for their season opening production of the classic musical “42nd Street”’ playing at The University of Cincinnati in the 740-seat Corbett Auditorium. Playbill magazine recently recognized UC as one of the most represented colleges on Broadway and it is only fitting that this “show within a show” takes place in New York City in 1933.  

Warner Brother’s “42nd Street”film was released in 1933 and restored the fortunes of the movie musical, set to songs written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin. Those songs, including “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “Young and Healthy,” and, of course, the title tune, were retained for the stage musical version with the score augmented to include other movie musicals of the ‘30s. The choreography was staged by legendary dance director Busby Berkeley, known for his chorus girl “parade of faces” and kaleidoscopic dance patterns.

47 years later, the 1980 Broadway production was directed by Gower Champion and won the Tony Award for Best Musical and became a long-running hit! CCM alumnus Lee Roy Reams originated the role of juvenile Billy Lawlor and was nominated for both the Tony and Drama Desk Awards as Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his performance.This fall, Reams generously hosted a series of masterclasses for CCM students sharing the impact that this show has had on his career.

CCM’s production opens with Roger Grodsky (musical director and conductor) and his incredible orchestra majestically elevated by hydraulic lift for their magical overture. The musicians were impeccable, bringing out all of the richness of the score. It was amazing to witness these often unseen artists. There are few more famous openings in musical theatre: the curtain rises a few inches, just enough to reveal a line of tap shoes volcanically thundering away.

The backstage musical tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a talented young performer with stars in her eyes who hopes to get her big break on Broadway. Peggy arrives to New York City from her hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania and her talent catches the eye of famed Broadway director Julian Marsh. She gets a spot in the chorus of his newest show, “Pretty Lady”. Dorothy Brock, the classic Broadway diva and star of the show, takes a dislike to the new girl. When Dorothy is injured, “Pretty Lady” looks like it will have to close, unless a new girl talented enough to lead the show can be found –someone like Peggy Sawyer!

Production values don’t get any higher than CCM’s with incredible sets designed by Mark Halpin, countless breathtakingly opulent costumes (Reba Senske), perfectly period-appropriate hair and makeup (Samantha Kittle) and all brilliantly illuminated by Jeremy Mayo’s lighting design. The Tra-la-la direction by Diane Lala moves the show along at a perfect pace adding some wonderful moments of depth to what could be an old Golden Age cliche. The choreography by Lala and Katie Johannigman pays tribute to the original Gower Champion, while infusing a fresh feel to the numbers that keep the show alive, staged with machine-like precision.  

Michael Canu as Andy Lee is equipped with spectacular tap sounds and is amazing to watch while “teaching” in the opening audition number and has some fabulous solo work in “We’re in the Money”. Bailee Enderbrock phenomenally harkens to Ann Miller and Grace Kelly in her portrayal of Peggy Sawyer and is, without a doubt, a brilliant triple threat. Jamie Goodson as Dorothy Brock sets the tone for whole show displaying incredible vocals with excellent projection and surprising modernity. Jack Brewer as Billy Lawlor sports a million dollar smile, dazzling tenor vocals and really shines in the 42nd Street tap ballet. There are many other standouts in this top notch cast with the full ensemble furnishing the stage with the energy of crystal clear tap sounds, melodious harmonies and glimmering optimism. 

It is a nostalgia fest for people longing to be taken back to an imagined golden age in which troubles could be tapped away by smiling chorus girls (even if that time was actually the Great Depression). Come see the future of Broadway at CCM and get at first look at the next generation headed to the Great White Way. 

The CCMONSTAGE Musical Series presents the ultimate show-biz musical “42nd Street” thru Oct. 27, 2019. Tickets can be purchased in person or by calling the CCM Box Office 513-556-4183