“Shuffle Off to Buffalo” with 42nd Street at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Larry Toyter, Christian Probst, Taylor Quick, Alex Jorth in 42nd Street at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Photos by Jason Nuttle

By Britin Haller

Behind every successful theatrical production are the people who help the stars shine, and given how crowded with controlled chaos the 42nd Street stage is, the backstage during showtime must sometimes seem like a madhouse. But that’s a closely guarded secret, and the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s opening night audience saw only a magnificently coordinated extravaganza from beginning to end.

Following in the footsteps of the legendary David Merrick (the original Broadway producer of 42nd Street) is the Maltz’s funny and charismatic Producing Artistic Director/Chief Executive Andrew Kato who took to the stage not only to introduce their upcoming 2024/2025 season with an eye-catching coming attractions video, but their new Island Theatre as well.

Larry Toyter, Scott Cote, Michele Ragusa, Wayne Legette, Kai Horvit in 42nd Street at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Photos by Jason Nuttle

Kato says 42nd Street “is the largest physical production ever mounted on the Maltz Jupiter Theatre stage,” and given the enormous scope of the costuming, there’s no doubt this is true. It’s worth the price alone just to see the costumes, each one skillfully, perfectly and lovingly altered from the bare rentals, and perfectly worn. With gloves, hats, shoes, wigs, and other accessories, there’s likely over a thousand pieces altogether.

But there’s so much more. Some critics of 42nd Street will complain that the script has no real cohesive plot, or call it just a “jukebox” musical because of the hodgepodge way it all came together, and while that may be partially technically correct, no matter. At the end of the day, brilliant theater should either entertain you or move you, or both, and 42nd Street more than gets the job done.

The book tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, the still “wet behind the ears” former Miss Allentown, Pennsylvania, whose high school drama teacher probably told her to “Reach for the Stars” just like the late high school drama teacher Lenore Cupp from Evansville, Indiana, used to tell this reviewer.

Cat Pagano, Allie Beltran, Maya Imani, Taylor Quick in 42nd Street at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Photos by Jason Nuttle

Peggy’s bus to the Big Apple ran late, and so by the time she arrives to the stage door, auditions for big-time Broadway producer Julian Marsh’s latest musical, Pretty Lady, are almost done. Luckily for Peggy, the already-cast Billy Lawlor, and Pretty Lady’s co-writer Maggie Jones, recognize Peggy’s talent and encourage her to stick around. A chance meeting with producer Marsh goes her way, and Peggy ends up in the chorus after all.

But all is not well in 1933 post-Depression times on 42nd Street, as Dorothy Brock, the actress cast as the “pretty lady” in the dancing show is a diva with little dancing talent, not to mention she’s way too long in the tooth to play the ingenue lead. This is not a nice woman, albeit a glamourous one. Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians springs to mind. Marsh wants Dorothy to audition, but of course she refuses because after all, she is a STAR. Thank goodness for her that her wealthy boyfriend is willing to put up the financial backing, but only if Dorothy is included in the package. Unable to turn down the generous offer, Marsh agrees to the blackmail.

Masumi Iwai, Kellyanna Polk Wackym, Kalista Curbelo, Allie Beltran in 42nd Street at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Photos by Jason Nuttle

So off to Philadelphia for a trial run they go, but a series of setbacks seems to indicate Pretty Lady may be cursed. Clearly no one told Dorothy to “break a leg” for good luck because when she literally does so, her show cannot go on, and neither will Pretty Lady because at the end of Act I, to the dismay of all, Julian Marsh announces the show is cancelled.

Act II answers questions like was Peggy’s drama teacher right to encourage her to get on that bus? Will the show manage to go on somehow? And will diva Dorothy ever learn to play nice?

It’s based on the Darryl F. Zanuck and Busby Berkeley 1933 film of the same name starring Ruby Keeler, which was based on the very risqué, for the times at least, 1932 book by Bradford Ropes. This version of 42nd Street, the Broadway musical, opened on August 25, 1980, with a $3 million dollar budget.

Merrick gambled on his “jukebox” musical taking hit tunes from 1930s songwriters Al Dubin and Harry Warren, and hiring Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble to write the accompanying book. It paid off in a big way. 42nd Street had a remarkable nine-year run, taking both Best Musical and Best Choreography Tony Awards the following year, with successful revivals over the decades as well. Sadly, Gower Champion, the show’s director and choreographer died 10 hours before curtain on opening night, but understandably that information was held back from the cast, crew, and audience until the final curtain call.

Stephen Eisenwasser, Allie Beltran, Christian Probst, Jonathan Eisele, Angie Schworer, Kalista Curbelo, Kai Horvit in 42nd Street at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Photos by Jason Nuttle

Catherine Zeta-Jones had her “overnight success” story during a 1984 performance of 42nd Street in London’s West End. As the understudy to the understudy for the role of Peggy Sawyer, chorus girl Zeta-Jones filled in when both actresses were unavailable and did so fantastically, she soon won the part as her own.

Maltz sweetheart Taylor Quick stars as Peggy Sawyer, the double threat who has to learn quickly how to act if she wants to be a star. Either the other tappers around Quick dumbed it down, or she really is the reincarnation of Ruby Keeler.

Peggy’s two love interests are Christian Probst whose Billy Lawlor thinks he’s the ultimate showman, and John Preator as producer Julian Marsh who knows he is. Probst has a natural way about him, and his voice is lovely, particularly in “Young and Healthy” when he’s extolling his virtues to Peggy.

John Preator is great, and his eyes sparkle when he’s in his element, giving peppy pep talks while looking up at the stars, or the lights of Broadway. “Think of Broadway, dammit,” he tells Peggy, when she is considering going back to Allentown. A #MeToo moment between the innocent Peggy and her much older more experienced producer boss Julian is saved because while she doesn’t say yes exactly, she doesn’t say no either.

A prop malfunction during one of Julian’s big numbers caused consternation for the otherwise perfect crew, but no matter. The purity of Preator’s vocals, and the sincerity in his tone, swept away any thought of what we might be missing.

Allie Beltran, Cat Pagano, Michele Ragusa, Taylor Quick, Maya Imani in 42nd Street at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Photos by Jason Nuttle

Angie Schworer as the ego-engaged diva Dorothy Brock is phenomenal. Imagine Norma Desmond 30 years younger, and you’ll have the flinty Dorothy. But even still, our hearts can’t help but melt when finally, Dorothy admits perhaps she’s not so perfect after all in the terrific “About a Quarter to Nine.” “Go out there and be so swell, you’ll make me hate you,” she tells Peggy in a moment of weakness Dorothy will probably regret later. But Schworer’s best moments come in “Shadow Waltz,” a hysterical feast for the eyes using hand puppets similar to the ones we made on bedroom walls as kids. She is also lovely and shows her impressive range in “I Know Now.”

Dorothy’s two love interests are Wayne LeGette, as the very wealthy Buffalo Bill-like sugar-daddy Abner Dillon, and Jay L. Johnson, as the kindly Pat Denning, who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both actors play their parts well.

Michele Ragusa is perfect as Maggie Jones, who along with Scott Cote as Bert Barry make up the co-writing team for Pretty Lady. They are both outrageous in their own way and consistently good no matter the number, but are extra precious in “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.” Scott is so cute as Bert you want to just pinch his cheeks.

Ensemble member Jonathan Eisle is just fun to watch whether he’s mugging it up in one of the many dance numbers, dressed as a goombah mugging Dorothy’s boyfriend Pat, or literally mugging passersby on the street in “42nd Street.” Be warned, there is a gunshot here.

As Mac, Julian Marsh’s stage manager for Pretty Lady, Ian Coulter-Buford brings the goods.

As Andy Lee, Alex Jorth is one of the two best hoofers in the cast, pulling triple-duty as the assistant director and dance captain for 42nd Street. His tap dancing is featured prominently in Go Into Your Dance.

Supporting Peggy in her desire to be all she can be are  Jorth as Pretty Lady’s energetic dance director, and Maya Imani as chorus girl Annie Reilly, whose nickname can’t be repeated here since we don’t shame women for their sexual choices in the 21st century.

Don’t bother auditioning for a future production of  42nd Street if you can’t tap dance in multiple styles, especially Broadway, soft shoe, and hoofing, the latter a movement known for its intentional aggressive stomping into the floor. Just ask ensemble members Allie Beltran, Kalista Curbelo, Jonathan Eisele, Kai Horvit, Masumi Iwai, Cat Pagano, Larry Toyter and Kellyanna Polk Wackym. Try not to smile during “Dames” when they bring out everything but the kitchen sink. The costumes, the dancing, the singing, just wow. Pure unadulterated pleasure. And any grown kid who ever sang along to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and other Looney Tunes characters in one of their many utilizations of “The Golddiggers’s Song” (known here as “We’re in the Money”) will love this version where the dancers hoof on rotating gold coins like their lives depend on it, and at one point all link arms while rotating in a circle.

42nd Street
is in great hands with veteran Broadway performers Jennifer Werner and Kristyn Pope as director and choreographer. Recently, Werner received a Carbonell Award nomination for her directing skills on the Maltz’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Pope understands the show from the inside out after having been there herself as a young dancer. “There’s nothing like the connection you have, and the camaraderie you feel being part of a show.”

And what a difference having a live orchestra makes. In his opening speech, Andrew Kato recognized the nine-piece pit musicians by instructing them to blow a horn to prove their presence. Musical Director and keyboardist Michael Ursua leads them well. And thanks to Scott Stauffer whose sound design enables the music, singing, and acting to be the best it can be. Not to mention the glorious sound of the taps on all those beautiful feet.

Lighting by designer Kirk Bookman and follow-spot operators Jason Perugia and Emma Pitot is pivotal especially during such numbers as “Shadow Waltz.” The projection design is crucial as Nathan W. Scheuer’s backdrops place us on a boardwalk, or at the corner of 42nd and Broadway to cite two examples. Really excellent work all around.

Production Stage Manager Suzanne Clement Jones, Assistant Stage Manager Randall Swinton, Stagehands Eric Harazi, William Hurley, Paolo Pineda, and Heather Simsay all deserve special mention. A show of this size has so many moving parts, and it is essential to have a well-oiled machine behind the curtain. Clement Jones’s team delivers.

The enormity of the costumes, accessories, wigs, and props is mind-boggling with several numbers obviously requiring quick-changes off-stage. Costume and wig designers April Soroko and Kevin S. Foster II have their work cut out for them showcasing the feathers, furs, and hairstyles of the era, like the-then popular finger waves. Besides the pre-show fittings and alterations, teams must be on-hand to ensure everything goes seamlessly (pun intended) while the curtain is up, and then clean and organize after for the next day’s performance. Dressers Grace Cirillo, Kimberly Harvey, and Natalie McMahon clearly work well under pressure.

From the moment the red curtain with the lit marquee slowly opens to give us a peek of a stage full of tap-dancing tootsies, to the final curtain call you won’t want to miss, the cast of 42nd Street gives us what Julian Marsh said he’d expect nothing less than. “Your best isn’t good enough; I want better than best. You’re gonna dance until your feet fall off.”

And dance they did.

For a quick-paced spectacular spectacle of beauty, glitz, glamour, and some excellent tap dancing, (are there people who don’t like tap dancing?), shuffle off to 42nd Street at the Maltz for their last show of the season before it hoofs away forever.

Until May 5th, 42nd Street aficionados can view costumes from the 1980 Broadway production, and the 2000 revival, in an immersive exhibition called “Dancing Feet The Experience, 42nd Street: Celebrating the Art of Dance” at the Wick Theatre and Costume Museum in Boca Raton.

Britin Haller is the Senior Editor for Charade Media. Her latest novel is Dumpster Dying by Michelle Bennington, available where books are sold. Find Britin across social media and at Charadebooks.com

42nd Street plays through March 31 at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 East Indiantown Road, Jupiter, (immediately east of A1A); Shows are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday. Running time approximately 115 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets starting at $50. Call 561-575-2223, or visit jupitertheatre.org.  

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