'42nd Street' national tour dazzles at Gammage

At its opening performance on Tuesday night, the show was packed with sweeping musical numbers and an expert cast.

Picture this: a proscenium arch frames thick red velvet curtains with gold tassels. Two free-standing spotlights on either side of the stage hit the arch and cause its jewels to shimmer and glint light across the theater.

The orchestra finishes a buoyant overture. For a moment, the theater is silent.

Then the curtain begins to rise, revealing three dozen pairs of tap-dancing feet moving furiously in time to a jaunty show tune. The dancers spread forward and fill the stage with signature Broadway pizzazz — fast, loud, bright and bold.

Welcome to 42nd Street. Or rather, welcome to "42nd Street," a revival of the Tony Award-winning backstage musical that will be at ASU Gammage for the next week as part of its national tour.

At its opening performance on Tuesday night, the show was packed with sweeping musical numbers and an expert cast. The plot is predictable and holds no real surprises, but the audience didn't come for a sermon or lecture: They came to be entertained.

In that respect, the show claims a resounding victory.

The story is set in 1933 and follows Peggy Sawyer (Caitlin Ehlinger), a small-town girl who arrives in New York City with dreams of stardom. She joins the chorus line of "Pretty Lady," a glitzy new Broadway show that producer Julian Marsh (Matthew J. Taylor) hopes will save him from financial ruin.

The star of the production is Dorothy Brock (Kaitlin Lawrence), an aging prima donna who secured the show's lead role because of her boyfriend's deep pockets. However, when everything goes wrong, it's Peggy who saves the day with her tap shoes and youthful optimism.

"42nd Street" started as a novel published in 1932, which was adapted into a musical film in 1933. A Broadway production opened in 1980, and the show has been revived several times since. This production is the first U.S. national tour.

The show is a visual feast, from the dramatic, bedazzled sets to the sparkling costumes of dozens of chorus girls and boys. For a touring set, it's surprisingly complex, including its own flooring so the sound of the tap shoes can fill the auditorium.

The mechanics of the production match those of its Broadway counterpart. With clever uses for mirrors, shadows, silhouettes, stairs and screens, it pulls all the stops in the book to keep the visuals from getting stale.

Even if it didn't have a set, the costumes themselves would be enough to set the tone of the show. Every variation of the "leggy chorus girl" look is present, from sundresses to leotards to bikinis literally made of money. It often borders on ridiculous, but pulls back just enough to keep the audience engaged.

The songs themselves are great show-stoppers, although "show-stopper" may be a misnomer because there seems to be one every couple minutes, yet the show still plows ahead. 

Vocally, there were two performances that stood out in a brilliant field. 

The first was Taylor, playing the jaded director who learns to fall in love with art again. He sang the quiet song "Lullaby of Broadway" with an effortless charm and swelling vocals.

The second was Lawrence, the primadonna star. Although she played the antagonistic diva, she undercut her character's dislikability by being an incredible singer — it was impossible to hate her after she belted out her first solo.

If you're looking for a night experiencing all the thrills of a great Broadway production, this is it. The tickets are cheaper than a trip to New York, yet you still get the excitement that comes with chorus girls, elaborate tap numbers and show tunes that will never leave your head. Ever.

The production runs through Sunday, April 10. More information and tickets can be found on Gammage's website.

Reach the reporter at skylar.mason@asu.edu or follow @skylarmason42 on Twitter.

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