On Stage: Dancing Feet

Photos: Matt Polk

Photos: Matt Polk


You’re going out there a youngster, but you have to come back a star!

Yes, it’s the dream of any current Broadway hopeful, to step on stage at the last minute and hit the equivalent of a home run with the bases loaded. That’s what gives 42nd Street, a 1933 film that morphed into a 1984 Broadway musical, a sense of currency.

42nd Street rode a wave of nostalgia onto Broadway when Gower Champion decided to  take a chance and

Ephie Aardem (Peggy Sawyer) and Tyler Hanes (Billy Lawlor)

Ephie Aardem (Peggy Sawyer) and Tyler Hanes (Billy Lawlor)

adapt the movie material for the stage. Although no one “shuffles” off to Buffalo anymore, it’s still a musical chock full of familiar standards like I Only Have Eyes For You, We’re in the Money and the title song, all framed in an iconic story about Peggy Sawyer, a starry-eyed dancer just off the bus from Allentown. She gets all the breaks — a spot in the chorus, the recipient of the star’s freak accident and the resulting role of a lifetime.

Now Civic Light Opera audiences can once again go and meet those dancing feet in a tap-happy season opener at the Benedum Center.

In fact, that’s the way it starts. The curtain rises on scads of tap dancing legs, something that lies at the core of the musical and gives it the celebrated “hip hooray and bally hoo” in several driving production numbers choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld.

Worried about the economy? There’s We’re In the Money, where the cast rat-a-tat taps on giant dimes (although that bought a lot more in those days). Can’t sleep? Listen to the Lullaby of Broadway, both soothing and passionate.

Sure it’s sentimental, dipping into minimalist Art Deco sets that combine a little Radio City Musical Hall with the lights of Broadway. But under the direction of Charles Repole, it’s still smart, tapping (in another way) the heart and soul of The Great White Way.

The cast, a fine CLO assemblage of talent, seemed to take it to heart as well. Patrick Ryan Sullivan had already played director Julian Marsh on Broadway and had the moxie to carry off his larger-than-life character. At the other end of the spectrum, Ephie Aardema played Peggy with a wide-eyed awe, while George Dvorsky was a real catalyst in bringing the two together as show star Pat Denning.

Among the supporting cast, Luba Mason, was a suitably weary Dorothy Brock, hiding a heart of gold, and Mara Newbery delivered veteran chorister Anytime Annie with a suitable punch. Former Dancing With the Stars contestant and NSYNC member Joey Fatone made the most of Bert Berry, co-writer and producer of the show in question, Pretty Lady.

Joey Fatone (Bert Barry) and Mara Newbery (Anytime Annie)

Joey Fatone (Bert Barry) and Mara Newbery (Anytime Annie)

Among this show of stars, though, the real shine came from the chorus. Yes, 42nd Street may have followed the ode to the Broadway gypsies, A Chorus Line (1975), but this production really preceded it by virtue of the movie. Although the cast was short on male dancers, they all danced up a storm.

This is one of those shows that you have to see once. In the words of Julian Marsh, think about “all those kids you’ll be throwing out of work if you” don’t attend. Think of all the songs “that will wither and die” if you don’t hear them. Think of “all the costumes that will never be seen, the scenery never seen, the orchestrations never heard.” Think of this show and “the thrill and pleasure” it can give to you. Think of “musical comedy, the most glorious words in the English language. Think of Broadway, dammit.”

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