REVIEW: "42nd Street" Taps into Theatre Lovers

Come and Meet Those Dancing Feet on the Avenue I'm Taking You to... 42nd Street.

42nd Street at Spreckels Theatre

Photos by Ken Jacques

“It’s worth a try isn’t it?” So the cast of the fictional musical Pretty Lady coos to director Julian Marsh, and so is the theme of the classic musical 42nd Street, originally written by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Through thick, thin, and oft-perceived insurmountable odds, the characters of this beloved production work hard to overcome the odds and make their fictional New York show the next big thing. In rather meta moments that poke fun at the world of stage productions (from fast-paced auditions to nightmarishly long rehearsals), 42nd Street is a boisterous (though simple) classic. Performed by the renowned San Diego Musical Theatre at Spreckels Theatre, 42nd Street doesn’t have to work quite as hard as Pretty Lady to find success; from the very beginning this production offers a fun romp through the world of musical theatre!

Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes (and the 1933 Hollywood film adaptation after that), 42nd Street tells the tale of the naive and inexperienced girl Peggy Sawyer (Ashley Ruth Jones) who moves to New York City in the middle of the Great Depression with the hopes of making it big on Broadway. Meanwhile, Broadway producer Julian Marsh (Robert J Townsend, who excels as the no-nonsense, debonair professional) is determined that his next show, Pretty Lady, be a hit. With dreams bigger than the Broadway stage she hopes to perform on, Peggy tries to navigate New York and the chorus through a myriad of ups and downs, including a run-in with aging and bitter starlette Dorothy Brock (Laura Dickinson, a master of comedic timing and bittersweet moments).

San Diego Musical Theatre

Directed by James Vasquez, the production offers a whimsical and light-hearted look into the world of stage productions. No conflict exists for more than a couple of scenes, and that's perfectly fine in a musical filled with large tap numbers and grandiose singing. The music, originally composed by Harry Warren with lyrics by Al Dubin, is performed live by the orchestra conducted by Don Le Master, producing big sounds and beautiful, heart-wrenching melodies. In regards to dancing, big production numbers are where 42nd Street shines. Numbers like "Dames" and "42nd Street" feature intricate tap choreography perfectly timed to the orchestra's music. Choreographed by Jill Gorrie, the chorus dancers all had crisp, clean sounds to match the brilliant vocals of the standout performers. 

And, truth be told, there are too many standout performers to count. Gabriel Navarro excels as Billy Lawlor, a young star in the making who oozes charm and charisma with just a hint of slime. San Diego Musical Theatre's artistic director Jill Townsend plays Anytime Annie, a saucy character with an ingrained loyalty towards Peggy. Bets Malone brought some of the biggest laughs of the night as performance-loving writer Maggie Jones. Even Ryan Fahey earned audience affection as Pat Denning, Dorothy Brock's secret lover.

Featuring brilliant lights reminiscent of a Broadway stage show designed by Michael Von Hoffman and classy period costumes designed by Beth Connelly, 42nd Street is an A+ production all the way around. 42nd Street is running at Spreckels Theatre in Downtown until June 12th. Don't miss the amazing big sound, big stage, and big production! Tickets are available at the San Diego Music Theatre website.