Tapping all the way to Broadway
Life imitates art. At least that is what has happened in the Stratford Festival production of 42nd Street. Jennifer Rider-Shaw is Peggy Sawyer, the hoofer who taps her way from the chorus to stardom. Cynthia Dale is Dorothy Brook, the big star making a big comeback on the big stage.
Stratford’s 42nd Street is a glittery production, filling the thrust stage at the Festival Theatre with amazing footwork that will be appreciated by those who love enormous song and dance shows. Originally a 1933 black and white movie filled with choreographer Busby Berkeley’s big dance numbers, 42nd Street was re-created for the Broadway stage in 1980, and then revived in 2001.
If you were a fan of the TV show Smash which just finished its first season, then you’ll know the plot of 42nd Street. Young Peggy Sawyer comes in from Allentown, Pennsylvania makes her way into the chorus the Broadway show, “Pretty Lady” as it is heading for its out-of-town tryouts. Starring in the show is big name Dorothy Brock, a popular leading lady making her way back to the stage. Here’s where life imitates art – instead of Peggy Sawyer, read Jennifer Rider-Shaw from Red Deer, Alberta. Instead of Dorothy Brock, read Cynthia Dale, back on the Stratford stage after a five year absence.
Jennifer Rider-Shaw is a delight in the lead role, playing a sweet, demure, and humble Peggy. She is modest until it comes to her tap-dancing: Rider-Shaw and her character Peggy are both very sure of their footwork. As Peggy says, “I can do any tap step ever invented: wings, cramp rolls, buffaloes, shuffles…” And show them she did – Rider-Shaw’s feet flew over the stage. She also has an excellent voice, a true triple threat.
Cynthia Dale is perfect in the Dorothy Brock role – you see flashes of her old Street Legal TV show character, the nasty Olivia. And it is such fun to see her re-united with her Street Legal colleague, C. David Johnson. In 42nd Street, Johnson plays Dorothy’s old flame, Pat Denning.
Kyle Blair’s Billy Lawlor is a real charmer, encouraging young Peggy. Blair, too, is a real triple threat with his clear tenor voice and smooth dance numbers. He deserves credit for handing both this role and Frederic in Pirates of Penzance with perfection. Sean Arbuckle plays Julian Marsh, the director of the show within the show. He is at first quite jaded, but then when he sees the success of the young starlet, his attitude shifts. Arbuckle shows his wonderful voice with in the final reprise of the title song.
Kyle Golumba demonstrates great tapping talent as Andy, while Gabrielle Jones and Geoffrey Tyler supply comedy as the writers. Naomi Costaine also provides laughs as Annie “Anytime” Reilly, and Steve Ross is perfect as Dorothy’s Sugar Daddy and the show’s producer.
The music for 42nd Street is very well done, thanks to music director Michael Barber. The orchestra even joined in the fun during the show, speaking up in protest, when Peggy is warned about musicians. Songs like “Lullaby of Broadway” and “We’re in the Money” are crowd pleasers.
With all this talent in the cast, 42nd Street is sure to be a favourite at Stratford, celebrating its 60th season. But in fact, it will be the ensemble that brings in the patrons. Kudos to the entire cast for their wonderful stage-filling big dance numbers: The tapping is perfectly executed with great precision, making the dancers and audience alike leave the theatre with big smiles.
42nd Street continues at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in repertoire until October 28. Call 1-800-567-1600 or go to www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com for tickets.
Music by Harry Warren
Lyrics by Al Dubin
Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
Directed by Gary Griffin
Choreographed by Alex Sanchez
Musical direction by Michael Barber
Performed by Jennifer Rider-Shaw, Cynthia Dale, Kyle Blair, Sean Arbuckle, Gabrielle Jones, Geoffrey Tyler, Steve Ross, et al.
Festival Theatre, Stratford
April 12 to October 28, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson