Saturday 21 July 2018

42nd Street is tippity-tap
fun for  tense & taut times
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : The southeast corner of Times Square, New York City. Where 42nd Street meets Broadway. Where the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station form a colourful backdrop not only for live theatre houses but in years past also for "grindhouse" picture shows that played sextacular soft porn. "Where the underworld can meet the elite / Naughty, gawdy, bawdy, sporty 42nd Street!" according to the show's final musical stanza. 

This is playback to the Dirty 30's, well before the #metoo epoch Hollywood is now shaming us through. When the notion of a small town girl who makes it on Broadway was a throbbing romantic leitmotif in the American exceptionalist myth. Precisely the kind of myth that many folks in these distempered times will find just what their therapist ordered. And precisely what TUTS delivers with pizazz and style and panache at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park.

Mashing it up in rehearsal of "You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me", the chorus girls rehearse their song-&-dance while fading diva Dorothy frets.
Photo credit Lindsay Elliott

How it's all put together : Allentown, Pennsylvania -- in the heart of what is now America's industrial rust belt -- is where Peggy Sawyer (Paige Fraser) hails from. She's trekked 90 miles east to the Big Apple in high hopes to be a chorus girl in the show Pretty Lady whose lead is the dimming luminary Dorothy Brock (Janet Gigliotti). A juvenile performer in the show, Billy Lawlor (Blake Sartin) spots Peggy and is smitten with heart throbs. 

Billy's dance chums help convince director Julian Marsh (Andrew Cownden) to give Peggy a chorus line shot. All's good to start, but during rehearsal Peggy crashes into Dorothy who -- as if taking the actors' invocation literally -- will break-a-leg when she plops unceremoniously onto the stage. Julian promptly fires Peggy. Until -- miraculously, mythically! -- he has an epiphany and is talked into dragging her, embarrassed and deflated, from slinking back to Allentown. 

Surprise surprise, Peggy gets the nod to be Dorothy's replacement with just 36 hours to go before Pretty Lady opens : "You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" Julian cheers her with the show's most-quoted line : she's near beswarmed with doubts she can learn six songs, 10 dances and 25 pages of dialogue in a day-&-a-half and has a wee breakdown. But then rises, refreshed, and blooms to save the day, save the show, save 100 peoples' ability to make their rent.

Alone on stage after Peggy's roaring success, Julian sings to himself, smugly : "Come and meet those dancing feet / On the avenue I'm taking you to...42nd Street!" as only the janitor's clean-up floor lamp is lit.

No end of tippity-tap and flashy costumes when the popular glitzy tune "We're In The Money" makes its appearance.
Photo credit Lindsay Elliott
Production values that describe the show : 42nd Street is a play-within-a-play built around the Pretty Lady show in rehearsal-mode but not actually doing it. It's a staged remake of the 1933 Warner Brothers film that first found its way onto the Broadway boards in 1980 where it turned out some 3,486 shows during a hearty 8 1/2 year run. 

One could almost call it a jukebox musical because it steals numbers from the back catalogues of both Warren and Dubin (13 here in all) to pump up the original four from the old movie. (The show's most famous chart, "Lullaby of Broadway", won an Oscar in '36 for Best Original Song. But from the utterly unrelated film called "Gold Diggers of 1935".)

A major distraction the night through : Malkin Bowl's c.13 X 15 metre stage -- i.m.o. -- is too deep by half, too wide by a third -- even for such a big-number musical production as this. 

Despite terrific guidance of cast and crew elsewhere, Director Robert McQueen somehow misread how to make the Bowl stage "work". Ideally it would enhance Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt's exceptional footwork and blocking and dance routines of her company (e.g. her riding-the-train and suitcase travel sequences with all the opera chairs were inspired and enchanting).  

But. Much of that exciting action regrettably occurred behind the faux proscenium arch pictured above, i.e. halfway back to the stage rear exit doors. To compare, think of ACT's Granville Island stage : with judicious use of side-stage curtain legs and tighter downstage traveller scrims, the cavernous Malkin platform could have been made much more cozy, intimate and involving for the audience.

Over-&-above the excellent choreography created by Ms. Hunt, Christina Sinosich's costumes were nonpareil for their variety in pattern and colour, even the rehearsal togs. The production costumes for their part were full-on prismatic in brilliance and glitter, just a delight to see. To need binoculars to appreciate all this splendiferous rainbow and twinkle, however, just shouldn't be.

Acting pin-spots : Following his excellent turn this past spring playing the Emcee for RCMT's Cabaret, Andrew Cownden as the imperious director Julian Marsh in this piece was its devilish and delightful driving force. 

He was aided neatly by Lucy McNulty who created a consistent witty sorority-Mom as cast whip Maggie Jones. Colin Humphrey's choreography dance captain Andy Lee was just the right mix : impish, lithe and cheeky. 

As the fading diva Dorothy Brock, Janet Gigliotti's contralto was rich and sensuous. Her protege Paige Fraser as Peggy Sawyer had fast and fancy footwork well in command. 

Strong performances from the rest of the cast, and a particular Huzzah! to the young Ensemble who executed Ms. Hunt's curlicue dance designs not only with cheery eagerness but also skill and finesse. Without a doubt each of them has a future on Canadian musical theatre stages should they wish it.

Who gonna like : It is almost impossible not to like a TUTS production at Malkin Bowl in Vancouver's Stanley Park sanctuary on a summer's evening. 

The extensive kvetches noted above about overall staging to the contrary notwithstanding, 42nd Street is good ol' song-&-dance tap-estry from a long bygone age. 

A different show called That’s Entertainment! provides an apt expression for this TUTS performance, no question, even if the storyline is contrived and mushy and USA-trite.

Still, as noted, the show's choreography and costumes coupled with the cast's zest-&-gusto-&-zing make for an altogether cheery night in the city that fans of musical big-show comedy can't help but find funny and fun.  

Particulars : Produced by Theatre Under the Stars. Performances until August 17, every other night in tandem with Cinderella.  At Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park. 
Tickets & schedule information via or by phone 604.631.2877 from 9-5, Monday thru Sunday.

Production crew : Music by Harry Warrens.  Lyrics by Al Dubin.  Book by Michael Stewart and Michael Bramble, based on the final chapters of the novel by Bradford Ropes.  Director Robert McQueen.  Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt.  Music Director/Conductor Christopher King.  Set Designer Brian Ball.  Costume Designer Christina Sinosich.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer Bradley Danyluk.  Properties Designer Heidi Wilkinson.  Stage Manager Collette Berg.  Assistant Director Lucy McNulty.  Assistant Choreographer Colin Humphrey.  Assistant Stage Manager Victoria Porter.  Assistant Stage Manager Cat Main.  Choreography Intern Matisse Quaglia.  Dance Captain Colin Humphrey.

Orchestra :  Piano / Rehearsal Pianist Arielle Ballance.  Bass Monica Sumulong.  Drums Colin Parker.  Reed 1 Lawrence Woodall.  Reed 2 Kevin Wool.  Reed 3 Julie Holden.  Reed 4 Zach Mozel.  Reed 5 Miranda Wheeler.  Horn Malcolm Francis.  Trumpet 1 Lindsay Goldberg.  Trumpet 2 Jonathan Kury.  Trumpet 3 Alex Song.  Alternate Trumpet Justin Kury.  Trombone Andrew Radke.  Trombone Angus Lam.

Cast : Jolene Bernardino (Ann Reilly).  Andrew Cownden (Julian Marsh).  Matthias Falvai (Pat Denning).  Tyler Q. Felbel (Abner Dillon).  Paige Fraser (Peggy Sawyer).  Janet Gigliotti (Dorothy Brock).  Colin Humphrey (Andy Lee).  Lucy McNulty (Maggie Jones).  Michelle Morris (Mac).  Blake Sartin (Billy Lawlor).  Joscelyne Tamburri (Lorraine Flemming).  Julia Ulrich (Phyllis Dale).  Understudies : Dylan Floyde (Male).  Julia Ullrich (Female).

Ensemble :  Charlene Bayer, Sylvi Booth, Sarah Cantuba, Justin Daniels, Alexandra Ewert, Elliott Flockhart, Dylan Floyde, Kyra Leroux, Michael Murphy, Tiana Pazdirek, Jaime Piercy, Rachel Scheibel, Melissa Sciarretta, David Underhill, Marco Walker-Ng, Emma Wiehe.

Songs (alpha order)
42nd Street 
About a Quarter to Nine
Getting Out of Town
Go Into Your Dance
I Know Now
Lullaby of Broadway
Shadow Waltz
Shuffle Off to Buffalo
There's a Sunny Side to Ev'ry Situation
We're in the Money
Young and Healthy
You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me

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