By Pam Harbaugh
VERO BEACH — Riverside Theatre’s intoxicating production of 42nd Street is as good as it gets — anywhere. This high-spirited show is awash in entertainment from beginning to end and you’ll remain a happy captive to the exhilarating song and dance numbers for days to come.
While it feels like classic musical theater, compared to other musicals, 42nd Street is still fresh. Based on the 1933 Busby Berkeley movie, the stage musical was created in 1980. The storyline, by librettists Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, is simple, sweet and predictable: Bright-eyed ingenue Peggy Sawyer meets big-name Broadway producer Julian Marsh who puts her in the chorus of his new show, Pretty Lady When the leading lady breaks her ankle, Marsh convinces Sawyer to take on that role because, dammit, she’s the only one who can do it!
The music, composed by Harry Warren with lyrics by Al Dubin, is as Broadway iconic as it gets. Big numbers, other than the title, include “We’re In the Money,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and “The Lullaby of Broadway.”
Allen D. Cornell has both directed and scenic designed this grand production. His choreographer Patrick Boyd, has created an array of drop dead, sensational dance numbers that nearly bring the audience to its feet. Add to that top notch singing and orchestra, led by music director/conductor Bruce Barnes, a gorgeous array of costumes by designer Stefanie Genda, and a cast filled with talented performers, and you get a mighty good show.
Patrick Ryan Sullivan is utterly winning in the role of Julian Marsh. He brings not only that big presence of the producer, but also the heart of a man who is passionate about the theater. Sullivan has found the strength, tenderness and fun in his many varied roles, even poignant truth in comical characters in A Tuna Christmas and Santaland Diaries. He’s played Julian Marsh in 42nd Street nine other times, including at the Arts Center Management-Lauderhill production in February, and on Broadway, where he also played Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and was a standby for three roles in Titanic. A fun fact about Sullivan: A decade ago, the Titusville, Fla. native had returned home to be with his late father and to help out his theatrical alma mater, Titusville Playhouse. A nearby community theater, Melbourne’s Henegar Center, was opening 42nd Street when they learned a little before curtain that their lead could not make it. So Sullivan stepped in at the last moment to do the role for opening night. So, yeah…heart.
It’s like you’re seeing the future of Broadway when Rachel Hafell steps on stage as Peggy Sawyer. Hafell is a total treat as the bright-eyed hopeful who finds herself sincerely drawn to Julian Marsh. Just as Sawyer is the package deal, so is Hafell. She’s sweet and filled with promise and theater passion all tied up with such talent that she makes those high kicks and big numbers look easy. The moment she steps onto the stage, you feel like applauding, as if some big star had just landed. Hafell is one to keep an eye on.
Erika Amato brings more than the usual to her role of Dorothy Brock, the difficult Broadway performer who’s past her prime. But that’s just the character. Amato herself is filled with stage pizazz and human touch. Amato shines in the beautiful number, “I Only Have Eyes for You.” By the way, that number was created by Warren and Dubin for the 1934 movie Dames, but added to the 1980 42nd Street stage musical.
Brock’s suitor and show backer is Abner Dillon, played with animated glee by the oh-so-delightful Ron Wisniski. Her real love, though, is Pat Denning, played with handsome presence by Patrick Oliver Jones, who was in productions of 42nd Street at Bucks County Playhouse and the Goodspeed.
Lanene Charters is a ball of talented energy who has big, infectious fun as Maggie, the heart-of-gold soubrette. Her many Broadway credits include Elf, Big, Titanic and Mamma Mia! Bryan Thomas Hunt stands out in his role of Billy Lawlor. While this is his Riverside debut, Hunt has performed in the best regional theaters in America. Jessica Wockenfuss makes a wonderful Annie, the hoofer who becomes a good friend to Sawyer.
The corps in this show is…well…superb. Leggy and showy, they make it all sizzle. The show begins with Jeremy Benton as Andy Lee, the choreographer of Pretty Lady, leading the troupe in a series of moves. It is thrilling to watch and hear all that syncopated tap dance. Benton is a dream of a dancer, making Boyd’s choreography look like a walk in the park.
This show has a smorgasbord of terrific, big dance numbers. The shadow waltz where characters dance with shadows and huge fans come to life with Yael Lubetsky’s dazzling lighting design. Then there’s the gorgeous, sophisticated gentleman’s number deeply evocative of Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line, and lovely lady number evocative of Las Vegas chorus line. A hysterical bride and groom bit is set in a sleeper car. And…oh my…the big ”I’m in the Money” number where gold glad dancers complete with gold tap shoes, dance atop huge “dime” platforms.
The pit orchestra, which numbers a dozen musicians, does a mountain of work. With help from sound designer Craig Beyrooti they sound like a much bigger pit orchestra than they are. However, it would be such a treat to get a full-sized pit orchestra supporting these big shows at Riverside. Even the character Julian Marsh sides with that argument (in a way) when he alludes to the “25 musicians in that pit.”
Riverside Theatre spent nearly $2.3 million on this production of 42nd Street and it shows in every detail of this deluxe production. Go see it.
42nd Street runs through April 30 at Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Park Drive, Vero Beach, Fla. Tickets start at $45. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, select Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Call 772-231-6990 or visit RiversideTheatre.com.
Pam Harbaugh writes for Vero News. This is a version of her review running in VeroNews.com.