Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JULY 24, 2009
Once upon a time, an innocent young girl from the hinterlands arrived in New York , wide-eyed with dreams of becoming a Broadway star. It’s a fairy tale as old as the Great White Way itself. But sometimes, life imitates art. During the premiere production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2000, the understudy was asked to step up and take the place of the lead; Sutton Foster went on to win a Tony Award for Best Musical Performance. So, you never know. The hope of the ingénue springs eternal.
And that’s the message of the deliciously nostalgic musical, “ 42nd Street ,” which started as a Depression-era novel, then a wildly successful 1933 movie classic. In 1980, it became a Tony Award-winning musical and the 2001 revival was also a Tony winner. As the show says, in theater, anything can happen.
Fresh-faced, stage-struck Peggy Sawyer steps off the train from Allentown , PA , and right into the arms of a Broadway hoofer. Next thing she knows, she’s auditioning for a new musical extravaganza, gets hired and then fired from the chorus, and then, two days before the opening, in a zillion to one chance, she’s called back to take over for the injured leading lady. As the crusty director tells her in one iconic line: “You’re going out a youngster. But you’ve got to come back a star.”
That success fantasy still drives hopefuls to New York every day. Now, it’s brought magically and marvelously to life on the Moonlight stage. The high energy show is directed by Jon Engstrom , who’s fashioned a whole career on the musical. He performed in the original Broadway production, and has directed nearly 60 productions of the show around the country. Besides spectacular choreography and dancing, the Moonlight production boasts a huge, crackerjack cast, an orchestra of 14, and some timeless tunes by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, including “We’re in the Money,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me.” Engstrom makes excellent use of the spacious Moonlight Amphitheatre stage, to create extravagant dance numbers highly reminiscent of the film’s Busby Berkeley originals.
Also due top billing, along with the terrific singers and dancers, is Moonlight’s new multi-million dollar stage house, which offers a 60-foot fly-loft and superb sound and lighting. The sets and costumes are colorful and the precision tap-dancing is irresistible. This is one of the greatest of all backstage musicals — a valentine to Broadway and a tribute to the tireless, passionate and eternally optimistic folks who make theater happen. So bring a picnic. Sit yourself down under the stars. And be swept away by a good old fashioned, happy-feet/happy ending musical.
“ 42nd Street ” runs through August 1 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista .
©2009 PAT LAUNER