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Come and see this dancin’ feat!

Orange County
Segerstrom Hall
11/10/2015 -  & November 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 2015
Harry Warren: 42nd Street
Caitlin Ehlinger (Peggy Sawyer), Matthew J. Taylor (Julian Marsh), Kaitlin Lawrence (Dorothy Brock), Blake Stadnik (Billy Lawlor), Lamont Brown (Andy Lee), Britte Steele (Maggie Jones), Steven Bidwell (Bert Barry), Mark Fishback (Abner Dillon), DJ Canaday (Pat Denning), Carlos Morales (Mac/Doctor), Mallory Nolting (Phyllis), Vanessa Mitchell (Lorraine), Sarah Fagan (Diane), Natalia Lepore Hagan (Annie), Rob Ouellette (Oscar), Carlos Morales/Matthew Alexander (Thugs)
42nd Street Orchestra, Rob Cookman (Conductor)
Gower Champion (Original Direction and Dances), David Merrick (Original Broadway© Producer), Mark Bramble (Stage Director), Randy Skinner (Choreography), Beowulf Boritt (Scenic Designer), Roger Kirk (Costume Designer), Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas (Hair, Wigs and Make-Up Designers), Ken Billington (Lighting Designer), Peter Fitzgerald (Sound Designer)

(© Chris Bennion)

August 25, 1980 would prove to be a bitterly sweet moment within the walls of the Winter Park Theatre: after enthusiastic curtain calls, it was David Merrick’s job to dubiously announce the passing of impresario Gower Champion, a mere ten hours prior to the premiere of 42nd Street. Based on a Warner Brothers’ 1933 film adaptation and novel by Bradford Ropes, the uplifting award-winning 42nd Street lives on with momentum through revivals with continuity under the direction of talented Mark Bramble, Merrick’s protégé.

Things haven’t changed all that much since the original Broadway© production (personally attended in 1984) other than a completely new, rather youthful cast with set modifications and a few other ancillary details. Rob Cookman’s fast pacing of The 42nd Street Orchestra intensifies the production by ensconcing the stage within a shrunk-down proscenium arch, thereby creating claustrophobia, especially during full company numbers.

The slowly rising curtain reveals a bevy of trademark tapping shoes igniting the opening scène de l’essence with complete synchronization and vibrancy. This perpetual motion never ceases.

42nd Street centers around Peggy Sawyer, that Allentown, Pennsylvania-native who saves the nearly-doomed Pretty Lady, as a last minute replacement to aging starlet, Dorothy Brock. Making her tour debut, Caitlin Ehlinger’s Sawyer has no compunction about how thrilled she is to be selected for this spotlight role. Her youthful, juvenile exuberance is still green, but she’ll nicely settle into the role with time. Her singing is sweet, yet a tad timid although the dialogue chirps frequently in part due to Peter Fitzgerald’s inconsistent and occasionally blaring sound conditioning. But can Caitlin Ehlinger dance! There’s a natural cadence and beauty in her turns and taps that will season in time as long as 42nd Street continues to shine.

Andy Lee skitters about effortlessly in his canary-yellow shoes as the show’s choreographer while he leads Mallory Nolting’s Phyllis, Vanessa Mitchell’s Lorraine, Peggy Sawyer and Maggie Jones (vociferously acted by Britte Steele) to a red checker clothed table in The Gypsy Tea Kettle Restaurant in a delightful rendition of “Go Into Your Dance.” Co-writer to Jones, Steven Bidwell flirts about with other female ensemble passengers on the insipidly-derived Niagara Limited during “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” adding whimsy and chuckling amusement.

(© Chris Bennion)

The show-within-the-show, Pretty Lady wouldn’t go on without the direction of Julian Marsh. Graduate from Oklahoma State, Matthew J. Taylor has the most mellifluous baritone voice although the image of an authoritative mogul is weakened by a missing bass gravitas. But time will bring deeper chords. Taylor, along with other cast members, coaxes Sawyer to stay with the company while delivering a dazzling “Lullaby of Broadway.”

Another one of the tour’s best cast members is Blake Stadnik playing the role of Billy Lawlor. Constantly hinting at sexual innuendos of tenors in their briefs, there’s a bit of truth to this notion. Mr. Stadnik acts naturally, and he vocalizes with buttery vibrato, but the weight behind his register gets lost at times due to Mr. Cookman’s overbearing harsh hits from the brass.

But the biggest disappointment in this 42nd Street is Kaitlin Lawrence’s Dorothy Brock. Despite the cleverness of wig and make-up by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas, her Roger Kirk costuming is uneventful, and the vocal register is too high to exude that of an aging prima donna (recall a marvelous gravelly Tammy Grimes.) Ms. Lawrence’s isn't “over-dramatic” enough and lacks heft in the role: The “Shadow Waltz” remains undervalued while inside “I Only Have Eyes for You” Ms. Lawrence displays truncated breath control and inconsistent legato. Diluted palpability prevails.

Perhaps due to this 42nd Street as a traveling troup or a feel of Depression Era austerity, Beowulf Boritt’s sets are two dimensional (with few exceptions such as Dorothy Brock’s dressing room and “We’re In the Money”) and cheesy. On balance, lighting, compliments of Ken Billington, works nicely, but the mirrored panels during ”Dames” facilitate a glaring annoyance back into the audience.

(© Chris Bennion)

All full company numbers are top-notch: “We’re in the Money”, a near-identical to the original Broadway version, has crowning percolation as does the “Finale.” Men’s dancing is absolutely fabulous; synchronization is an epitome of perfection and the men’s first version of “Dames” flows smoothly.

Mark Bramble’s stage direction is to be wholeheartedly commended. There is an extreme amount of logistics (i.e. set and costume changes) to consider, yet Mr. Bramble executes without a hitch. That, unto itself, is ingenious and efficient. An added asset, Andy Skinner’s new choreography and staging is exhilarating, mobile and inventive.

42nd Street runs until November 22, 2015, so if you want a fixin’ of some tappin’, come down to The Segerstrom...you’ll leave with a smile on your face.

Christie Grimstad



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