Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
Music by Harry Warren
Lyrics by Al Dubin
Original Direction and Dances by Gower Champion
Directed by Mark Bramble
Musical Staging and New Choreography by Randy Skinner
Starring Blair Ross, Patrick Ryan Sullivan and Catherine Wreford
The Fifth Avenue Musical Theatre Company
1308 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101/ (206) 292-ARTS

Reviewed by Jerry Kraft

It takes some serious sunlight to break through the dense, gray clouds of Seattle. This national touring company of "42nd Street" manages to do it with dazzling, precise tap, a ton of glitter, some old-fashioned feel-good songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, and just enough story to make it seem like the big numbers are about something other than just themselves.

The familiar tale of the sweet innocent who gets her big break on Broadway and saves the show by becoming a star works like any other fairy tale; it's predictable, comforting and filled with a sense of good and right winning out over all obstacles. It may be pure fluff, but it's delightful and charming fluff, and even though you don't really believe a single word from a single character, the sheer energy, skill and naivete is enough to entertain. It's a dumb story, but so is "Cinderella", and that one only has one big dance.

This show opens with the curtain half-raising on a stage full of dancing feet. Perfectly appropriate given that everything from the waist up in this show is less interesting and less convincing. This production suffers from the curse of many large-scale touring shows. It's polished, well-produced, cast with thoroughly competent pros who can deliver a technically flawless performance night after night without ever altering a gesture, varying a delivery or investing one beat of their own hearts. Shows can have worse problems, but it hurts this story in particular because it destroys any illusion of an innocent girl with nothing but dreams and talent, representing all those other chorus dancers with the same dreams. OK, maybe I'm taking the story too seriously, but even in fairy tales I think we should be able to see Red Riding Hood without also seeing a resume, an agent and a contract in the woods behind her.

In any event, Catherine Wreford is a rock-solid hoofer, and if her Peggy Sawyer isn't the best dancer on stage, the production certainly makes us believe that she is. She has a good but not outstanding singing voice, which is certainly enough for most of these songs. In general, she is a serviceable Peggy, not quite naive enough to be the kid from Akron, and not quite brilliant enough to be the unexpected star. Her vocal limitations are true for most of the company, with a couple of notable exceptions. Blair Ross has a big, rich Broadway dramatic voice, and she knows how to wrap it around stage-veteran Dorothy Brock's numbers. Patrick Ryan Sullivan has a surprisingly strong voice, and made the cliched role of the hard-driving, nothing-but-perfection director balance against the tireless, small-town girl with a dream cliche. The ensemble delivers necessary support in a fully competent manner to advance the story and mark the varied personalities of the backstage and performer types. Mark Bramble's direction gets it all right without making it much matter.

But then there was the dancing. All my presumptuous sniping fades to utter insignificance at the sound of those perfect time-steps, the razzle-dazzle of unison formations and mirror-reflected Busby Berkeley design numbers, with the sheer transport of being lost in that expert percussion melody. It's impossible to stay blase to that insistent rhythm. Randy Skinner has taken the Gower Champion style of choreography and made it his own. Every dance number left a grin on my face. The songs were in my head as I walked out of the theatre, and my walk itself was quite a bit less gravity-bound. Those flashing, glittering costumes blinded me to even the most obvious doubts about the show, and even with the four or five finales that close the evening, I felt like it had all led to a big, group hurrah. "42nd Street" really belongs to another era, and even then it had precious little to do with any kind of reality, but it has everything to do with a fantasy that you can find around any stage in the world. Enough talent, a lucky break, and who knows? The "Lullaby of Broadway" does linger.

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