42nd Street shows off Northwestern’s talent on the mainstage

Avi Small

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From the very first moment, when the curtain rises a foot above the stage to display the tap-dancing feet of the cast (accompanied by gasps and cheers from the audience), “42nd Street,” the 70th Annual Dolphin Show, displays all the things that make us love musical theater. The lavish costumes, the clever sets, the swell of the orchestra, the corny sexual innuendos and the sharp tap dancing remind us why musical theater can be fun and light-hearted. Northwestern’s excellent cast gives the show’s inherent Broadway cheesiness an impressive and technically proficient spin.

“42nd Street” tells the story of veteran director Julian Marsh, played by a believably gruff Alex Goldklang, and his quest to mount the next successful Broadway hit in the midst of the Great Depression. Along the way he discovers a young chorus girl, Peggy Sawyer (Evelyn Jacoby), as she becomes Broadway’s newest star. Marsh’s production is complicated by the antics of Billy Lawlor (Ben Estus) as he pursues Peggy and aging diva Dorothy Brock (Kara Dunlevy).

The show itself feels at best like a guilty pleasure. For those accustomed to edgy, controversial musicals like “Next to Normal” or “Book of Mormon,” “42nd Street” feels sugar-coated or trite. Though director Emily Maltby does an effective job of emphasizing the show’s setting in the Great Depression, especially in the number “Go Into Your Dance,” “42nd Street” still feels like a relic from a time when musical theater was far more shallow than it has been in more contemporary productions.

It is therefore up to Maltby and her cast to breathe life into a show that could easily feel stale, and they are clearly up to the challenge. In the opening night performance, the company attacked the stage in each scene–the dancing was great, the singing was clear, the whole show felt vibrant and very much alive. For a show that emphasizes the importance of chorus girls (and boys), it is fitting that this production’s ensemble and supporting cast were so strong. Allie Parris as Maggie Jones, a writer struggling to keep the show afloat, and Royer Bockusas experienced chorus girl “Anytime Annie” Reilly had spot-on comedic timing and believably zany characters who were especially fun to watch. The staging and set were creative (especially a set of changing staircases) as was the choreography, which encompassed everything from tap to ballet.

“42nd Street” has by no means a perfect Broadway plot line. But as a choice for The Dolphin Show, performed and produced by NU theater lovers, it was a perfect selection–an exuberant tribute to the art of musical theatre.

-Avi Small