42nd Street is one of those musicals that continues to not only withstand the test of time, but remind people of the essence of musical theater — particularly the innocence, fun, and exhilaration of being alive.
This is even more true given that 42nd Street is a depression-era narrative, when the stuff of dreams was relegated to fantasy, parked hopelessly at the very back of the bread line.
But to not only endure, but conquer, has been the most alluring tale of humanity — and 42nd Street, which began its run at the Pantages Theatre on May 31st (and will run through June 19th), shows us that luck is truly the happy melding of opportunity and preparation.
Being a meta musical, 42nd Street is about the fictional production of Pretty Lady, and a modest young woman (Peggy Sawyer played by Caitlin Ehlinger) who just wants to be a part of it, no matter how small a role, though just needs her one shot.
She is surrounded by the director who holds the key to opportunity in his hand (Julian Marsh / Matthew J. Taylor); the leading man in Pretty Lady, Billy Lawlor (Blake Stadnik); and the seasoned, but imperious female, who is the lead in the show within the show, Dorothy Brock (Kaitlin Lawrence).
Lawrence does a fantastic job of communicating the haughtiness of her character, which never becomes too unlikable because of the soothing sweetness of her voice. This is exemplified in the visual and aural presentation of “Shadow Waltz” when Lawrence, as Brock, is flanked by not one but two of her shadows.
Juxtaposing Brock’s role in all of this is the ascent of Peggy Sawyer who wins over the co-writer/producer of Pretty Lady (Maggie Jones / Britte Steele) and the chorus girls at the Gypsy Tea Kettle Restaurant. We witness that Sawyer not only has tempestuous tap skills, but a refreshing humility to match her talent. In reaching this aim, Ehlinger inhabits her character with a natural grace and fortitude that is both artistic and awe-inspiring.
Consequently, Sawyer earns a role in the Pretty Lady ensemble by winning over the exacting, but fair, Director Marsh. And throughout Sawyer’s development, Billy Lawlor endears himself to the Allentown-born girl with an unflappable charisma that is inclusive of his incredible triple-threat skills (acting, dancing, and singing).
Of course, for Lawlor to perform such feats on stage — with non-stop tap numbers, including the presence required to pull them off, and then having the wherewithal to find his breath to sing, when there would be seemingly none for any mere mortal man, would require an uncanny performer.
Stadnik does everything required of him and more in “Young and Healthy,” “You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me,” and in the titular song and dance number, “42nd Street.” And he does so with an impressive aptitude that is on par, if not better, than some of the best Broadway performers. Yet, what is even more unbelievable is that Stadnik does what he does despite being legally blind (due to macular degeneration), using only blurs and shadows to navigate himself on stage.
Stadnik’s musical and acting prowess is only matched by the anchor of the production’s starring performer, Matthew J. Taylor, whose delivery of the Julian Marsh character is reminiscent of a young Marlon Brando. Marsh, with jutting chin and all, is an invigorating firecracker of intensity and fervency, who cannot be deterred nor discouraged. He is unflagging in his pursuit for manifesting the vision in his mind — which takes an entirely different shape when Brock suffers a leg injury. With some coaxing and the realization that his undue pride is hindering him, he therefore races to Broad Street Station in Philadelphia to not only rehire Sawyer (after firing her for a perceived incompetence), but to give her the role of a lifetime in place of the indisposed Brock.
Thereafter, when Sawyer has to prepare her lines and dance routines literally up to the minute of the opening of Pretty Lady, is when arguably the best scene in the entire musical transpires. With the pressure to succeed more intense than ever, Marsh coaches Sawyer on a specific line: “Jim, they didn’t tell me you’d be here. It was grand of you to come.” Needless to say, it needs to be said with a compelling mix of ardor and conviction, but Sawyer is unable to express it in the way it needs to be uttered until Marsh asks if she’s ever been in love, sealing his urgent question with a kiss to inspire and awaken the star-making ability Sawyer perhaps never knew she had.
Overall, 42nd Street — which is written by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble, with music by Harry Warren, and directed by Mark Bramble — offers the very best in acting, singing, and indefatigable tap-dancing from both its primary and ensemble performers.
For more information about the show, visit