Theatrical Reviews – 42nd Street by Dick Franztreb
It was opening night for El Dorado Musical Theatre’s production of 42nd Street. Halfway through the first act, I wrote in my notes, “This scene is a work of art!” What could that mean? After all, this was a musical theatre production. What struck me was the way costumes, acting, staging, dancing, and singing fit together so perfectly to persuade the audience that they were looking at something real from the musical theatre world of 1933. Then halfway through the second act, I had seen so much that was so perfectly presented, I wrote, “This whole show isn’t just a work of art, it’s a masterpiece.”
It all began with the opening number. The curtain rose just 3 feel to reveal the legs and feet of the whole company tap dancing: it was a stunning effect and brought cheers from the audience. The wonderful tap dancing continued to be a highlight of the show, with frequent routines, each delightfully fresh. There was much more wonderful choreography — always a highlight of an El Dorado Musical Theatre show — Rockette-style lines with innovative features, and many elegant routines that I can’t characterize. And then there were a couple of numbers where tight choreography was broken up by clumsiness, which had to be incredibly difficult to pull off so believably.
I’ve attended every EDMT show for 6 years, and in each one their master innovator — Director/Choreographer Debbie Wilson — has shown me things I’ve never seen before. This time it was a line of girls singing on their stomachs a few feet from the audience, a pair of spotlights downstage pointed at the performer to create interesting shadow effects, extensive use of shadowed acting behind a scrim. But to enumerate the innovative, creative features doesn’t do them justice: the whole show was one dazzling sight after another. And it was all aided by the sophisticated projections, some animated and with multiple projectors, that gave scenes realistic settings that became effectively transparent to the audience.
The costumes were amazing: period-specific, elaborate, and colorful. To my mind, Costume Designer Karen McConnel is a wizard. There was one unforgettable scene where the young women were lined across the stage in silk gowns presenting more than a rainbow of colors: it was a visual feast. But what was so extraordinary to me, was the incredible frequency of costume changes — the activity backstage must have been frenetic, and I would be surprised if each performer had fewer than a dozen costume changes.
In a way, all that I’ve said to this point is just the “canvas” for this masterpiece of musical theatre. The “paint” is these wonderful young performers. Emily Fritz played a brilliant lead as Peggy Sawyer, the ingenue trying to make it on Broadway. Her singing and dancing were excellent, but what impressed me so much was her acting. She lived that part, bringing finesse and nuance that made it a pleasure to watch her work. And there’s Zach Wilson, a complete performer, who amid all the lightness of the action was in a serious role as director Julian Marsh. Having watched him in EDMT shows since he was a small child, tonight I saw a new dimension of his versatility, along with the great irony that, as one of EDMT’s best dancers, he was the one character who didn’t dance.
Kyra Schneider was another example of truly impressive acting. As Dorothy Brock, the pushy, egotistical star of the show-in-a-show, she insinuated and intimated with an upper-crust accent that fits our image of 1930s showbiz royalty. I want to go on and on about each of these young people. I saw one great performer after another, each overflowing with personality and with a confidence and ease that can only come from talent, conscientious rehearsing, and insightful directing.
This wonderful show is full of so many great, familiar songs (“We’re in the Money,” “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” etc. — and of course, “42nd Street.” Like the beautifully synchronous dancing, the ensemble singing was excellent, a tribute to new Vocal Director, Stephanie Milton. But individual singers were also outstanding. One doesn’t know what to expect from singers this young, but to complement his fine acting and dancing (and gymnastics!), Connor Ricketts’ singing was just extraordinary. And truly, every principal who had a singing part had a strong, clear voice that was pleasant to listen to. But more than good singing, I saw and heard song styling from singing actors who made their song an integral — sometimes moving, sometimes exhilarating — part of the show, and always full of personality.
There was one wonderful moment when newcomer and chorus member Peggy was being suggested as the one who could take over for the injured star, Dorothy. Could she learn all the lines, songs, and dances in the short time available? Then came the line: “Aw, she’s young. Kids can do anything.” When I heard this, I laughed out loud, but no one else around me seemed to get this perfect example of dramatic irony. I guess they forgot that they had been looking at kids for the past hour and a half. But they didn’t see kids: what they saw were great actors, great singers and great dancers, all aided by professional-quality directing, choreography, vocal training, and theater tech. That’s the magic of El Dorado Musical Theatre. As they say of themselves: “We don’t do kids’ theater. We do high-quality theater. It just happens to be with young people.”
EDMT Brings 42nd Street Back to the Stage
A Review by Ken Kiunke
for Gold Country Publications
El Dorado Musical Theater is presenting a new production of the Broadway hit 42nd Street in an “Encore Production,” a once-a-year presentation featuring their top performers in an audition-only cast. This is the third time EDMT has presented 42nd Street, and it’s no wonder since the show features great songs, and plenty of tap dancing, which this company is especially good at. The musical first opened in 1980 on Broadway but was based on the 1933 movie, with music by Harry Warren, and lyrics by Al Durbin and Johnny Mercer.
42nd Street is the story of an aging and fading stage star, whose only route into a new show is her relationship with her rich Texan “sugar daddy” who’s paying for the whole thing. Meanwhile, a young, naive girl from Allentown, with loads of talent and plenty of hopefulness, just wants a chance to be in the show. Set in New York during the depression, the story is really about these two women, the fading star Dorothy Brock, played by Kyra Schneider, and the new girl Peggy Sawyer, played by Emily Fritz. Though the part of Dorothy is not supposed to be sympathetic—she spends a lot of time complaining and pushing everyone around—she also dominates the musical numbers in the first act, and Schneider does a great job in the songs “Shadow Waltz,” which features some cool shadow effects on the stage, and “I Know Now,” which shows her vulnerability. And Peggy just wants to be noticed, and she and Ann Reilly, played by Nittany Biggs, show off their tap dancing skills in the number “Go Into Your Dance.”
One of the leading men is Billy Lawlor, the star of the production, who falls for Peggy when she shows up looking for a part. Connor Rickets plays Lawlor, and shares a nice duet with Fritz in the song “Young and Healthy.” He also leads the company in several big dance numbers, like the iconic “We’re In the Money” and the “Act I Finale,” showing off his great tap dancing skills, along with some acrobatic dance moves. That, and the spectacular “Forty-Second Street Ballet” in Act II are two of the many highlights that feature the entire company in large-scale song and dance numbers, expertly choreographed by Director/Choreographer Debbie Wilson and Associate Choreographer Anjie Rose Wilson.
The other leading man is Zach Wilson, playing Julian Marsh, the director of the “Pretty Lady” production. EDMT veteran Wilson naturally commands the stage as the man in charge, as he puts Dorothy Brock in her place, while also coaxing her to perform, and her rich boyfriend to keep paying the bills. Wilson doesn’t have a song in the first half, but he reminds you of his great voice when he starts “Lullaby of Broadway” in Act II, which becomes another great stage production with the entire company. He also closes the show fittingly with the “Forty Second Street (Reprise).”
Also standing out in the cast is Jocelyn Haney, who plays Maggie Jones, the songwriter, and sort of guardian angel to the young ladies in the cast. Haney always attracts your attention, and shows of her singing talent in several numbers, especially in “Shadow Waltz” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.” Liam Roberts teams up with Nittany Biggs to open that comical song as a newlywed couple on a train and do a great job with the clever but corny lyrics. Ty Rhoades plays Andy Lee, the choreographer who recognizes Peggy’s talents, and can’t help dancing with her, showing off his own skills as well. Justin Harvey plays Abner Dillon, the rich “sugar daddy” for great comic effect. And many of the cast get a chance at a solo in the optimistic song “There’s a Sunny Side to Every Situation” opening Act II, and they all do a great job.
Though Peggy’s part through most of the first act involves her showing her talent and then clumsily messing things up, in the second act she is dubbed the star, and Emily Fritz shines most brightly in the “Forty Second Street Ballet,” as she leads the company in the big finishing number, in both singing and dancing the part of the girl who had to live up to Marsh’s hopes when he says “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!”
As usual for an EDMT production, the set designs and projected effects are terrific, and the costumes by Karen McConnell are amazing, with up to ten changes per cast member throughout the show. A shout out to the Vocal Director, Stephanie Milton, who worked with both the ensemble and the leads to ensure that they had the vocal direction and support that they needed to put on this level of performance. 42nd Street opened February 16th and runs Thursdays through Sundays until February 25th. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net Due to some “salty” language, the show is best for pre-teens and older and will delight all ages, especially fans of good “old fashioned” musicals. The opening night crowd showed their appreciation with a standing ovation for the hard-working and talented cast.
Founded in 2001, EDMT is one of the premier youth theater companies in the Western United States. More than exceptional theater, it is also a place where young people can “build confidence for life through excellence in theater production.” Each season, El Dorado Musical Theatre continues to raise the bar on the level of its productions. Digital projection effects have become a standard part of shows along with flying effects, and eye-catching costumes and makeup. Combined with the excellence of the performers, it has lifted EDMT to its reputation of being one of the premier regional youth theater companies in the United States.