KPBS AIRDATE: July 08, 2005
It used to be thought of as a pipe-dream, just a theatrical fantasy: the lead actress gets sick or injured and the chorus girl goes on and becomes an overnight star. That’s the premise of the 1933 movie musical and 1980 stage show, “42nd Street.” But the fact is, the fairy tale came true right here in San Diego just a few years back. When the La Jolla Playhouse was premiering “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in 2000, the leading lady was suddenly out and Sutton Foster stepped in, knocked everyone’s socks off, and went on to snag a Tony Award for Best Performance in a Musical.
So “42nd Street” doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched any more. It’s the story of stage-struck chorine Peggy Sawyer, newly arrived in New York from Allentown, Pennsylvania; who gets her big break when the star fractures her ankle. Peggy goes on, and opens to raves on “naughty, bawdy, gaudy, sporty 42nd Street.” [You do have to have a Noo Yawk accent to make that and many other rhymes work in Al Dubin’s lyrics, written to Harry Warren’s memorable music].
The show is really a theatrical valentine (or should I say, a “Lullaby of Broadway?”); the score is sensational, including, of course, the title tune, as well as “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me,” “We’re in the Money,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and “About a Quarter to Nine.” But without dancers and costumes and elaborate staging, the piece feels dated and dusty. Not to worry; at the Welk Resort Theatre, director/choreographer Jon Engstrom has the situation well in hand. After all, he has a 25-year history with the show, starting as a featured dancer in the original Broadway production, later directing the show all over the U.S. and Europe. Up in Escondido, he’s assembled an exceptional cast of singers and dancers. The tap numbers are terrific, and this isn’t just predictable shuffle, ball-chain stuff. These superb dancers execute intricate and exciting steps.
All the leads are wonderful, from the gorgeously syrup-voiced Erika Amato as the incapacitated diva, to perky, multi-talented SDSU musical theater student Nicole Werner as the adorable ingénue. As comic relief, Katie Wilson is a powerhouse and San Diego native Jamie Torcellini is fast, funny and amazingly agile. Kathryn Venverloh, who’s performed in several straight plays around town, gets to show her admirable gams and chops as chorus girl Anytime Annie. Andrew Husmann is a handsome and robust boss-man/director, but his singing was stronger in the Welk’s 2003 production of “Annie Get Your Gun.” As the young romantic male, Jacob ben Widmar excels in the dance numbers.
The costumes are vibrant and ever-changing, the sets aptly feature backstage simplicity and Broadway neon glitter. All the elements add up to one great big barrel of fun.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.