Chicago Theatre Review
Go Into Your Dance!
42nd Street – Broadway in Chicago
In the breathtaking, highly-energetic opening number entitled “Audition,” the curtain raises just high enough for the audience to come and meet those dancin’ feet, tapping full out to the familiar title song. In this defining moment, the bar is set for this terrific production. From this moment on, the iconic story of Peggy Sawyer, the small town triple-threat, who travels to the Big Apple with only 40 cents in her purse and a dream in her heart, becomes a bonafide Chicago hit.
Adapted from the popular 1933 Ruby Keeler/Dick Powell film, David Merrick’s stage version, with a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, was stuffed with additional music from the Harry Warren and Al Dubin songbook. Hard to believe now, but the show was only the second theatrical adaptation of a film, back when it won both the 1981 Tony Award for Best Musical, as well as the 2001 Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. Gower Champion, who passed away the day the musical opened, deservedly won the Tony for Best Direction and Choreography.
The musical features such well-known hits as “Dames,” “We’re In the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and the infectious “42nd Street.” Each of these songs, and others like “The Shadow Waltz,” “Young and Healthy,” “Go Into Your Dance,” “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me” and “A Quarter to Nine,” build into huge production numbers, all of which feature Champion’s driving, challenging choreography, recreated and updated here by Randy Skinner, and accompanied by J. Michael Duff’s fine, brassy pit orchestra. Director Mark Bramble beautifully integrates all of these elements with his nicely executed, presentational staging.
Broadway’s Beowulf Boritt demonstrates why he’s a Tony Award-winning scenic designer. Working in tandem with lighting designer Ken Billington, the stage is festooned with light, color and beautiful old-fashioned backdrops that highlight the story. Award-winning costume designer Roger Kirk employs his craft by creating an impressive array of glamorous 1930’s-inspired fashions, mostly trimmed in glitz, sequins and feathers.
And, of course, there’s the incredibly talented triple-threat performers who bring these colorful characters to life. Caitlin Ehlinger makes her touring debut starring as the little girl from Allentown who makes it big on Broadway. Although a bit underplayed, Ms. Ehlinger’s perky Peggy Sawyer not only becomes the ever-smiling star of “Pretty Lady,” the musical’s show-within-a-show, but she earns her title as a true leading lady of this show. Singing and tapping like the pro she is, Ms. Ehlinger easily holds her own with every member of this entire talented cast.
In the role of the legendary showman Julian Marsh, Matthew J. Taylor is terrific. His character is the glue that holds this story together. In addition to being a handsome, talented actor, Mr. Taylor demonstrates a gloriously rich baritone that would be the envy of most actors. As the domineering director, whether serenading Peggy Sawyer with his “Lullaby of Broadway,” or tying up the story with his reflective denouement reprising the title song, Taylor grounds this production with strength and maturity. Add to this cast the flashy, boyishly charming Blake Stadnik as Billy Lawlor, the leading man of “Pretty Lady,” and you have a trio of incredibly strong performers to carry this show. In most productions, Billy is simply the lead tenor and romantic lead for Peggy Sawyer. In Mr. Stadnik’s capable hands (and talented feet) this production has a gifted song-and-dance man, a star with a great voice, a wicked sense of humor and loads of charisma. Kaitlin Lawrence, as the show’s bitchy diva Dorothy Brock, has moments of brilliance. However, as a supposedly legendary Broadway star, Ms. Lawrence somewhat underwhelms. She’s got the rancor and ruthlessness of her character down pat, but her enervated vocals, while pleasant, lack the requisite power and pizzazz.
Mark Bramble’s talented 24-member ensemble is magnificent. It’s led by standouts Natalia Lepore Hagan as the bubbly, capricious chorine Anytime Annie, Britte Steele and Steven Bidwell in the show-stealing roles of comedic writer/composer team Maggie Jones and Bert Barry and Lamont Brown as the musical’s topnotch choreographer Andy Lee. Every single performer bursts with talent, including Mark Fishback, as teddybear sugar daddy Abner Dillon, and DJ Canaday, as Dorothy Brock’s handsome love interest, Pat Denning. Audiences will be hard-pressed to find a harder working ensemble of actor/singer/dancers who make it all look effortless.
Theatergoers looking for a show that’s just plain fun and entertaining needn’t look any further. This non-Equity production offers a large, talented cast singing and dancing their hearts out to a joyously infectious and familiar score. Decked out in beautiful costumes, staged in front of colorful scenery, this production enchants. It’s the quintessential backstage song and dance fable, adapted from the classic Busby Berkeley 1933 film and set during some dreadful economic times. But when everyone goes into their dance, this effervescent musical helps bring some much-welcome warmth and carefree brightness to end Chicago’s chilly winter.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all BIC box offices, at all Ticketmaster retail locations, by calling the Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.