On its surface, “42nd Street” is about young Peggy Sawyer’s transformation from a talented outsider into a New York star, but really the musical is the tale of director Julian Marsh falling back in love with theatre.
Created in the 1930s, “42nd Street’s” roots stem from the Great Depression when times were tough and jobs were scarce. It is from the era when plays, movies even musicals were often about people at work. An era when sudden fame was tempting but viable employment at something you loved was the real American dream.
Though a later production, Humphrey Bogart’s newspaper movie, “Deadline — U.S.A.,” has a Depression feel to it from its black-and-white film stock to its subplot of a publication on the brink of going out of business. As the publisher’s widow tells Bogart’s editor character, “You wouldn’t have had a wife if that newspaper had beautiful legs.”
That’s how much Bogart’s character loves big stories and deadlines. That’s how much Julian Marsh loves the magic of Broadway.
Peach State Summer Theatre’s “42nd Street” captures this love affair in such a contagious way that audiences will not only understand how Julian Marsh feels, they will fall in love with this show, too.
How will they love it? It’s almost impossible to count the ways.
There’s the opening bit with a slightly raised curtain with only tapping feet visible; the “Shadow Waltz” of Desiree Dillon’s nuanced performance as the star Dorothy Brock; the dazzling mix of naiveté, skill and pitch-perfect talent from Megan Wheeler’s magnificent Peggy Sawyer; the tough guy with a heart of gold in Michael Hadary’s fully realized Julian Marsh; Genny Wynn’s textured stained-glass lighting effects for “I Know Now” to the beckoning darkness of her star-flecked “42nd Street”; the never-ending cycle of familiar songs, “42nd Street,” “We’re in the Money,” “Shuffle off to Buffalo,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” all played with the necessary electricity of dazzle or breadth and depth by the live orchestra led by conductor Matthew C. Mainella; the combination of wit, charm, voice and timing in Renita James’ Maggie Jones; the twirling, whirling spread of giant Liberty Dimes for “We’re in the Money”; the emotional crescendo of the train station plea for Peggy Sawyer to stay with “Lullaby of Broadway”; Michael J. Byrne’s ability to never miss a step or a note as the young Billy Lawlor; the show’s ability to play each character to type yet find that spark-well of humanity that transforms them from one-dimensional stock characters to three-dimensional authenticity; the non-stop parade of dazzle and day-in, stage show and street smart costumes of Esther Iverson; the panoramic ability of Ruth A. Brandvik’s set designs to transform Valdosta State University’s Sawyer Theatre into Broadway; Ree Seminole’s flawless technical direction ... the ways are indeed countless.
Yet, we must shine the light on choreographer Eric Brandt Nielsen and director Jacque Wheeler. They try for the stars and reach them.
There is a point watching this show — maybe it’s “We’re in the Money,” or “Lullaby of Broadway,” or some other moment when your mind is lost in the whirlwind of steps and twirls and locked arms and releases — you can’t help but wonder how did Nielsen form all of these dancing feet within his mind then express them into the movements of these dancers within a period of only a few weeks?
Wheeler keeps all of these elements integrated and well-paced, everything moving from the songs to the dances to the laugh lines to the development of character, all to a wonderful rhythm that dazzles and mesmerizes.
And as one realizes that this show is a love story between Julian Marsh and Broadway, PSST!’s “42nd Street” makes a bold proposal that it’s a love anyone can share.
This review is based on this past Saturday matinee.
Peach State Summer Theatre’s “42nd Street” continues 7:30 p.m. today, Sawyer Theatre, VSU Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood, and continues in rotating repertory with “Mary Poppins” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” through July 27. Reservations, more information: Visit www.valdosta.edu/psst or call (229) 259-7770. The Valdosta Daily Times is PSST!’s corporate sponsor.