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Monday, November 24, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 2/12/2005

Fun to be found on '42nd Street'

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Those dancin' feet of 42nd Street hit the Stranahan Theater stage a-tapping and don't let up for almost 2 3/4 hours. OK, there is an intermission, but it hardly counts.

There is a plot of sorts, but as Billy Lawlor sings: "What do you go for,/Go see a show for? Tell the truth/You go to see those beautiful dames." Some might take issue with this sentiment, but it works for this revival, originally produced in 1980 by David Merrick and choreographed by Gower Champion.

The story is about Peggy Sawyer, a kid from Allentown, Pa., who wants to dance in a Broadway show. But the nation is in the throes of the Depression and there aren't that many jobs to go around.

There is, however, a new musical by impresario Julian Marsh, the David Merrick of his day. It's Pretty Lady, and it's being bankrolled by a millionaire on the condition that his sweetie, Dorothy Brock, gets the lead role. Marsh isn't thrilled about this - Dorothy is a prima donna who can't dance - but his writers, Bert and Maggie, say that without her, there's no Pretty Lady.

When she rushes in, late for the audition, Peggy catches the eye of Billy, the handsome leading man, and they hit it off, singing and dancing "Young and Healthy." Maggie spots Peggy's prodigious talent, and when Marsh orders the young woman out of the theater because he needs no more dancers, Maggie starts plotting to get her back.

The plan succeeds even better than Maggie expected, because Peggy not only gets a job in the chorus, she captures the interest of the hard-hearted Marsh. But he has a show to put on, a show with lots of singing, dancing, and beautiful costumes.

In a national tour of a Tony Award-winning show, one expects the leads to be first-rate, and for the most part they are. Mara Davi as Peggy is perky and engaging, with a tap-dance speed that looks as if it could rival the Riverdance crew. Kyle Dean Massey as Billy is handsome with a good voice and stage presence. Ron Smith as Julian exudes charisma.

The show would be worth watching for these three alone, but there is much more, starting with Jeffery Williams, Jr. He plays Andy Lee, the dance director, and when he moves, loose-limbed and smooth as silk, he owns the stage. Maureen Illmensee and Evan Alboum, who play Maggie and Bert, are a Mutt and Jeff pairing. Tall and amply endowed (so much so that a wardrobe malfunction seemed imminent), Illmensee often seems to be channeling Lucille Ball. The much shorter Alboum is a master at body language, getting laughs without saying a word.

The only performer who pales in comparison is Natalie Buster, who plays Dorothy. Granted, this is a thankless role - she's supposed to be the villain - but her singing also grates, going from throaty and sexy in the lower ranges to harder and more-nasal in the upper. It is unsettling, especially in songs such as "I Only Have Eyes for You."

But the dancing is marvelous, especially "We're in the Money," "Lullaby of Broadway," and "42nd Street" which are show-stoppers.

Overall, the show is energetic, vibrant, and joyous, a perfect antidote for a dreary February.

"42nd Street" continues at 2 and 8 p.m. today and 2 and 7 p.m. tomorrow in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets range from $32.50 to $41.50. Information: 491-381-8851.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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