Musical Theatre West’s 42nd Street is a tap-dancing extravaganza, featuring a cast comprised of the most talented hoofers around, and adept behind-the-curtain players, who do a fantastic justice to the 1980 Tony Award-winning musical (spotlighting the resilience of the Depression-era 1930s), which is duly presented as a grand spectacle to behold. This enchanting rendition of 42nd Street makes it easy to see why “We’re in the Money” and “Lullaby of Broadway” have endured as standards.
The Cynthia Ferrer-directed meta premise is very much a show within a show as it delves into the rehearsal journey of Pretty Baby, a production that needs to be a hit for renowned Broadway director Julian Marsh who is relying on his established star, Dorothy Brock, to deliver. When would-be chorus girl from Allentown, PA, Peggy Sawyer, attempts to try her fortune in New York, one big break after another gives her the opportunity of a lifetime in an underdog and inspirational story, especially for dreamers of the stage.
42nd Street earns an ovation only minutes after the curtain rises at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, in a dazzling display of coordination and click-clacking of the feet, enhanced by beaming faces and winning attire. Make no mistake about it: If there ever was a musical that almost equally relied on the efforts of every individual to make a holistic impression, this is it. With not one weak link, two hours and forty-five minutes feels like a jaunty sprint.
Emma Nossal is the humble, vivacious, and ambitious Peggy Sawyer who arrives late to audition due to jitters, hoping that her raw skill earns her a spot in the ensemble. Nossal gives one of the most likable performances in recent memory, conveying a fresh-faced innocence about Peggy that makes her and her lucky yellow scarf root-worthy from the outset; of course, it doesn’t hurt that Nossal can make complicated tap routines look pleasantly effortless. Sawyer’s director in the narrative, the reputation-preceding Marsh, is portrayed by Robert Mammana who deftly balances his character’s authoritative energy with a just-out-of-sight sincerity that suitably bubbles to the surface when urgently called for.
Taking a keen interest in Sawyer, and partnering with her in myriad scenes, is Billy Lawlor played by the charismatic Quintan Craig who more than keeps up in his silver tap shoes and impresses with a higher register that rings with superb clarity. But what indirectly opens the door for Sawyer to go from chorus girl to much more are circumstances pertaining to Dorothy Brock who lacks in the dance department and acts much too cool around her blue-collar castmates. April Nixon shines as the diva-pouting Brock, a persona who is responsible for compelling conflicts, not just in relation to Sawyer and Marsh, but vis-à-vis cowboy “sugar daddy”/investor Abner Dillon (humorously depicted by Kevin Carolan) and her secret set-visiting lover Pat Denning (earnestly realized by Stephen Bishop).
Offering much levity are the in-show writers of Pretty Baby, which include the charmingly energetic Bree Murphy as Maggie Jones and Jamie Torcellini as Bert Barry who uses his physical comedy in Act II alongside Jane Papageorge’s sensually confident Annie Reilly to stir up ample smiles and laughs. Papageorge is often joined by April Jovejoy’s Lorraine and Maggie Ek’s Phyllis who are underscored as ensemble leaders for the audience in both the fictious Pretty Baby in addition to the zoomed-out 42nd Street — and for good reason. They and Phillip Attmore’s Andy Lee (the dance director of Pretty Baby) are incredible from one costume change and tap sequence to the next, giving this production a seal of the utmost professionalism.
Real-life choreographer Cheryl Baxter has outdone herself with a series of tap numbers consisting of flaps, slaps, shuffles, trenches, cramp rolls, toe punches, and more, often combined with arms waving and bodies rotating in magically perfect unison. The timing, too, is flawless in tandem with music director Wilkie Ferguson’s cues whose proficient orchestra simultaneously exists in both 1933 and 2024. Moreover, Bruce Brockman’s versatile and illuminated set is further beautified by Paul Black’s lighting and Debbie Roberts’s prismatic costumes, which yield breathtaking illustrations that will positively linger for some time.
Certainly, 42nd Street can feel like a blissful dream as in during the Shadow Waltz, where Nixon’s Brock and others move in concert with their shadows in what is a brilliant use of light. Unsurprisingly, “We’re in the Money” doesn’t disappoint with its gargantuan coin props and sparklingly green attire, and neither does “Lullaby of Broadway” inside a train station. Yet, there is also the balletic “Dames,” which is taken to the next level with top hats and a wall of luminescent tinsel; the same can be said for “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” where seated choreography inside separate train cars enthralls.
As it turns out, Musical Theatre West’s 42nd Street is one of those rare exhibitions that blends a motivational story with extraordinary tap steps, taking its audience members on a time-travelling trip to the early 20th century in the U.S., which, despite being mired in one of the darkest economic periods, was also defined by a buoyant and refulgent optimism. The acclaim for this production should be shared by those onstage and offstage whose collective expertise has resulted in an alluring celebration of musical theatre.
Musical Theatre West’s production of 42nd Street runs through Sunday, February 25th. For tickets and more information about the show, visit musical.org.