Chicago Theatre Review
Go Into Your Dance!
42nd Street – Drury Lane Oakbrook
There’s an old saying proclaiming that “everything old is new again.” Generally it implies that, if you wait long enough, yesterday’s ideas will come back into fashion again. But that’s not what it means in this case. The familiar show biz fable about a talented, young, small town girl, who winds up becoming a Broadway star, is a cliche nowadays. But, no maxim could be more appropriate for the dazzling, breathtaking production that’s opened at the Drury Lane Theatre.
Director Michael Heitzman, a Chicagoan who’s earned fame all over the country with his remarkable productions, has taken this very well-known musical and created a whole newly reimagined show. Anyone unfamiliar with the popular 1933 Ruby Keeler/Dick Powell film, eventually adapted into David Merrick’s nostalgic, tuneful theatre version, will find this new interpretation imaginative, radically contemporary and quite exciting. But audiences who know and love this musical may be truly surprised. Certainly the characters, the basic storyline and some of the songs will be recognizable; but much of this show will look and sound so uniquely different and modern, theatergoers will think they’re enjoying a brand new musical comedy.
Sporting a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble and stuffed with marvelous music from the Harry Warren/Al Dubin songbook, the musical 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. In the breathtaking, highly-energetic opening number entitled “Audition,” we meet those dancin’ feet, tapping full out to the familiar title song. However, the style of dancing in this newly conceptualized production is unique. It’s the brainchild of Jared Grimes, a talented, young choreographer, who, in this production, has blended hip-hop and street jazz with traditional tap. The result is a “42nd Street” that’s more Savion Glover than Busby Berkeley. In this defining choreographed number, the bar is highly set for this terrific updated version of the show. 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.
The musical still features such well-known hits as “We’re In the Money” (danced inside giant coins filled with bags of actual nickels and dimes), “Dames,” “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 Grimes’ driving, heart-stopping choreography, and accompanied by Chris Sargent’s talented, onstage orchestra, which hovers high above the stage. But, unlike most other productions, it’s heavy on both acoustic and electronic instrumentation, and Everett Bradley’s musical arrangements are astonishing and spine-tingling. Michael Heitzman beautifully integrates all of these elements with his nicely executed, presentational staging.
Collette Pollard returns to Drury Lane, designing a fragmented set that resembles scaffolding and movable platforms. This intentionally unadorned scenic design helps focus the audience’s attention on the dynamic, talented cast. They’re beautifully adorned in an impressive array of glamorous, 1930’s-inspired fashions, created by Broadway costume designer Emilio Sosa. His artistry blazes with color, style and movement and trimmed in sequins, spangles and glitz. Working in tandem with Claire Moores’ stylish wigs and hair designs, each character is stunning. Tony-nominated lighting designer Mike Baldassari sets the stage awash with light and color that highlight the story; and Ray Nardelli’s special sound design includes tiny microphones on each actor’s shoes, so as to better hear those dancin’ feet.
And, of course, there’s the incredibly talented triple-threat performers who bring these colorful characters to life. Making her Drury Lane debut, New York actress Kimberly Immanuel stars as the little girl from Allentown who makes it big on Broadway. Slightly resembling a young Nanette Fabray, Ms. Immanuel’s perky, attractive 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 production. Singing and tapping like the pro she is, Ms. Immanuel easily holds her own with every member of this talented cast.
In the role of the legendary showman Julian Marsh, Chicago favorite Gene Weygandt is terrific. His character is the glue that holds this story together. In addition to being a handsome, talented actor, Mr. Weygandt offers a gloriously rich baritone that’s 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 that reprises the title song, Gene Weygandt grounds this production with his strength and maturity.
Add to this cast the flashy, boyishly handsome charm of Phillip Attmore as Billy Lawlor, the starring tenor actor of the cast of “Pretty Lady.” Fresh from Broadway’s current revival of “Hello Dolly,” this charismatic young triple-threat makes a likable leading man and a friend to Peggy Sawyer. In most productions, Billy is simply the romantic lead for Peggy Sawyer. In Mr. Attmore’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 lots of charm.
As the show’s irritable, egocentric diva Dorothy Brock, Suzzane Douglas is brilliant. She plays this fictional Broadway star with every drop of the arrogance one would expect from such a luminary, legendary performer. She’s got the rancor, ruthlessness and attitude down pat; and her velvety vocals that attest to the training and experience of a true Broadway veteran, filled with all the requisite power and pizzazz of the perfect Dorothy Brock.
Michael Heitzman’s talented ensemble is magnificent. Led by the gifted Donica Lynn and Justin Brill in the comedic, show-stealing roles of the show’s writer/composer team, Maggie Jones and Bert Barry, you’ve got two standouts, whose act is hard to follow. Add to this cast talented Sierra Schnack as the bubbly, capricious chorine, Anytime Annie; Erica Evans, portraying the musical’s topnotch, hard-as-nails choreographer and righthand assistant, Andy Lee; Cedric Young, playing Dorothy Brock’s teddybear sugar daddy, Abner Dillon, and Brandon Springman, as the diva’s handsome love interest, Pat Denning, and you have a supporting cast who’s up to the task. In fact, every single performer bursts with talent, and audiences will be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated working ensemble of actor/singer/dancers who make everything look effortless.
Chicago theatergoers tired of the same old familiar musicals, produced almost identically every time, and looking for a creative, new approach to an old favorite, this show will fit the bill. It’s still the same “42nd Street” story, but with newly updated orchestrations and livelier tempos. The show’s still a lot of fun. And Drury Lane’s Equity production offers a large, talented cast, all singing and dancing their hearts out to a joyously infectious score. Decked out in gorgeous costumes and staged with loads of pizzazz, this production entertains with spunk and spirit. For younger audiences, it’s a fine introduction to the quintessential backstage song and dance fable. And when everyone goes into his dance, this effervescent production will bring some much-welcome warmth and carefree brightness to Chicago’s chilly Autumn.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 26-January 7 by Drury Lane Oakbrook, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling them at 630-530-0111, by calling TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or by going to www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.