The Muny's grand, glorious and glitzy production of "42nd Street" sparkles like a Tiffany's display case.
On the second opening night of this 98th season, a joyful cast delivered "sheer unadulterated brilliance" — to borrow the bombastic words of the legendary impresario Julian Marsh character.
Marsh is played authoritatively by Tony winner Shuler Hensley, and the casting is so good you want to shout a 'hip hooray' right away.
This vivacious 1980 Tony-winning adaptation of the 1933 original Busby Berkeley movie musical is a showbiz siren call, an homage to every chorus kid who dreamt of one big break.
Set during the Great Depression, the classic star-making story, written by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, includes many corny backstage drama cliches. Based on a novel by Bradford Ropes, the characters are drawn in broad strokes.
But director Denis Jones smartly eschews camp for a finessed retro tone, grounded in the time period. Desiring better lives, the scrappy performers' hopes and dreams surface, and we feel their passion and excitement. Sure, we laugh at silly lines, but we're not groaning or smirking.
Besides, there is enough effervescence in the "Hey, kids, let's put on a show!" scenario to bottle as soda pop.
This time, the neon lights of Broadway beckon as the hoofers prepare a lavish musical "Pretty Lady." They want to work and America desperately needs the cheer.
Fresh off the train from Allentown, Pa., starry-eyed Peggy Sawyer (Jonalyn Saxer) shows up at auditions. She stands out talent-wise, and quickly becomes popular with the intrepid troupe, despite a few setbacks.
She clumsily gets in the way of the past-her-prime prima donna. Demanding diva Dorothy Brock (Emily Skinner) takes an immediate dislike to perky Peggy. But who gets to fill in when the injured leading lady can't go on? Ta-da! A star is born.
A true triple threat, radiant Saxer is appealing as our spunky sweetheart Peggy. With an indomitable spirit, she effortlessly glides across the stage in song and dance numbers.
Saxer works well with Jay Armstrong Johnson, so delightful in "Hello, Dolly!" two summers ago. He genially plays the slick co-star Billy Lawlor, and sizzles in the showstopper numbers.
Skinner's richly textured voice captivates — she makes such familiar Harry Warren-Al Dubin standards as "I Only Have Eyes for You" and "You're Getting to be a Habit with Me" her own. Though she plays a despicable person, one must admire her sultry vocal prowess.
Even on the enormous Muny stage, Hensley is a powerful presence. He won several prestigious awards for his riveting performance as Jud in Trevor Nunn's heralded reimagined "Oklahoma," including the 2002 Tony and 1999 Olivier awards. He cuts an imposing figure as showman Marsh, who badly needs a hit to restore his Midas touch.
One of the highlights is his masterful build of "42nd Street," an opportunity to showcase his impressive baritone, and it adds depth to the disarming fluff.
Ultimately, the show belongs to the high-energy chorus line. A bevy of fleet-footed dancers flawlessly perform synchronized movements that are beauteous to behold.
They beguile in the vibrant title song, triumph in "Lullaby of Broadway" and pop in a flashy "We Are the Money" that mirrors an extravagant Hollywood number on the LED screen.
Director Denis Jones choreographed this old-fashioned spectacle with even more pizzazz than his other dazzling Muny efforts — including "Chicago," "Grease," and "Holiday Inn."
Noteworthy is a clever and surprising "Keep Young and Beautiful" and a sprightly 'Shuffle Off to Buffalo."
The sheer stamina and swift moves the dynamic dancers display is awe-inspiring. Ebullient Joe Grandy, of Fairview Heights, is one of the ensemble's happy pairs of feet.
The bravura finale might be the Muny's best-ever curtain call — a jaw-dropping, jewel-encrusted, glittery nightcap that brought the crowd — which had been enthusiastically cheering throughout the show — giddily to its feet.
Don't leave while the principal cast is taking its bows or you will miss an elaborate cavalcade of dancers on a stunning staircase. It is a lump-in-the-throat moment that outshines every musical's conclusion since I started reviewing the Muny seasons in 2009.
Spellbinding, it's one of the finest dance numbers of the past 50 years. Not since "A Chorus Line" created their singularly sensational finale in 1975 has there been a curtain call to match it on the Muny stage — until now.
The Muny's seventh version will undoubtedly become the gold standard for those irresistible tap-dancing exhibitions that never go out of style. Ben Whitely's robust music direction kept pace so that the spunky songs and rhythmic dance flowed in harmony.
This production is filled with memorable moments — a remarkable shadow dance (bravo, lighting designer Rob Denton and video designer Matthew Young), syncopated movements in a Pullman car, and costume designer Andrea Lauer's glamorous vintage fashions, to name a few. You'll leave grinning or humming or trying a time step the minute you get home.
Put this one in the vault as an example of how all ages can be entertained — from the young star-struck girl tap-dancing in her good dress shoes as she left with her dad to the scores of smiling seniors, refreshed with a spring in their step, who continue to marvel at Muny Magic after all these years.
Gower Champion, the five-time Tony winner for choreography who directed the original Broadway production, must be smiling from above.
- Where: The Muny
- When: Nightly 8:15 p.m. through June 30
- Information: www.muny.org or call the Box Office: 314-361-1900 or 314-534-1111