Monday, April 29, 2013
Theater review: Artisan Theater Company’s production of 42nd Street draws you in and lifts you up
It's an inspiring, toe-tapping musical with a good message.
Editor's note: Artisan Center Theater's production of 42nd Street contains two sets of casts. The people pictured in these photos are not the actors that theater critic Eric Bird saw while reviewing the show, though both sets of casts use the same script and characters.
The music for 42nd Street starts, the sound of 1930s swing rings throughout the house and my foot immediately begins to tap. There is something about the music from that time period that has always called to me. I have heard the music for 42nd Street many times over the years but I have never had an opportunity to see the musical in person.
Songs like "We're in the Money" and "Lullaby of Broadway" have always made me want to get to my feet and start dancing to this enjoyable swing era music. In Artisan Center Theater's production of this classic musical, the lively movement and energy that the actors portrayed brought the audience into the show and kept them there.
42nd Street opened August 25, 1980 at the Winter Garden Theater, eventually moving to the Majestic and then to St. James. In the original cast Jerry Orbach portrayed the part of Julian Marsh, Tammy Grimes the part of Dorothy Brock, Wanda Richert as Peggy Sawyer and Lee Roy Reams as Billy Lawlor. It has received Tony awards in "Best Musical" and "Best Revival" and an Olivier award in Best Musical.
The plot for 42nd Street takes place in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression, where Julian Marsh, the director of the next big hit musical, is assembling a cast to open a new show in New York. The story revolves mostly around a young lady named Peggy Sawyer, a newcomer to Broadway, and her road to her first big performance. In the cast is also Dorothy Brock, an actress past her prime that is known for her skills on the stage and famed in the Broadway world for her singing, though her lack of dancing skills is obvious. It's just one lucky "break" after another as Peggy lands a role in the chorus and manages to shine onstage.
The musical numbers throughout, choreographed by Libby Claycomb, were outstanding! The intricate rhythm that the dancers portrayed with their feet kept the show upbeat and lively. This combined with the vocal talents of the cast and the formations when they were dancing were definitely a positive contribution to the show, giving both the eye a powerful image and the ear an amazing experience through the tap dancing skill that was portrayed.
Looking at things from a technical point of view, the sound, designed by Rick Blair, and lights, designed by Nate Davis, was spot on for the most part, though at times they left something to be desired. There were occasions when the sound was too loud and other times when it was difficult to hear what they were saying or singing onstage.
Though at times an issue, the quality of the singing and dancing was great when everything came together. The house-raising songs kept me engaged and tapping my feet throughout almost the entire show. The lighting was also well done and helped to show off the characters effectively, though the spotlight shone directly into the eyes of some of the audience and there seemed to be some minor issues with timing throughout.
In blocking the show, the director, M'Lisa Bailey-Hansen did very well throughout; things worked very nicely with most of the action taking place center stage. This I appreciated since it made things very visible for the entire audience and it seemed that everyone had an opportunity to see things from the front.
Sometimes it was difficult to see the action that was taking place in the corners and behind the audience, though this was minimal and far between. The blocking was well done and contributed to the great image of the piece.
The scenic design, done by Lilly-Stapp-Courtney, was very clever and helped to portray the characters in a great environment. The coloring used was especially effective in bringing us into the 1930's. I especially liked the usage of the dark tones in the center stage, with the changeable backdrop image showing the different locations and title of their Broadway show. This kept the audience with the actors and helped move them effectively through the story line.
The costumes, designed by Rebecca Roberts, for the most part worked very nicely and contributed to the show. The lines seemed to be blurred on occasion between afternoon dress and evening dress, with a range of about ten years in the dress styling, though this may have been an artistic choice due to the financial difficulties of the time period. There were also other occasions when the dress looked to be entirely too modern.
Besides this, the costuming worked well throughout the show and was enjoyable to see. The dresses when they were time appropriate helped keep the audience in the play and brought them to the 1930's. The men's costuming was very well done, ranging from the "down on their luck" artists to the professional attire worn during their Broadway performance. These matched very nicely with what was going on onstage and throughout the show.
Libby's performance as Peggy Sawyer, the girl wanting to make it on Broadway, was engaging and powerful. I enjoyed the journey that she went on from the shy girl not sure about performing to the star at the finale. This combined with her talents in dance and singing kept her interesting and enjoyable to watch. I especially liked the first number that she performed in, since there was so much energy and range of emotion in the song, the indecision at the beginning to the strength at the middle, back to indecision when Julian Marsh appears was a great demonstration of skill.
Elias Roman as Billy Lawlor was outstanding. His dancing kept things upbeat and moving and the emotion that he portrayed in the songs with his fabulous voice was powerful. I enjoyed the range of emotion that he displayed in the show and the skills that he shared onstage. His duet with Peggy in the song "Young and Healthy" portrayed his character and showed his strength as a singer and as a performer.
Lillian DeLeon as Dorothy Brock was a strong performance onstage. She portrayed her role extremely well with a powerful voice and a believable performance. Her journey, though very different from Peggy's, was entertaining and thought provoking. I enjoyed watching the character learn and grow throughout the show from a diva that no one can stand to a caring person that finally knows what she wants in life at the end.
Artisan Center Theater delivered a powerful performance and message with their rendition of 42nd Street. It may have been something as simple as Dorothy realizing what she wanted or as difficult as Peggy trying to fight for her dream. You shouldn't let anything get in the way of what you want. Obstacles will always arise in our lives, but if we overcome them then we can be the star of our own lives and shine on the stage of the world. 42nd Street reminds us of that, and I recommend it as a good way to pass an enjoyable evening.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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