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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review: 42nd Street

...on 42nd STREET!
By Byron Toben
What a wonderful show this is! The Hudson Music Club, which staged the  highly regarded The Drowsy Chaperone last year, has topped that with their rendition of this multiple award winning Broadway classic.
42nd Street originally began as a film gamble by Warner Brothers in 1933. Financially troubled despite their success as a film noir producer, they hired away Busby Berkely from MGM to produce some of the most kaleidoscopic over the top dance numbers for this backstage drama of Broadway musical types. Canadian born Ruby Keeler, recently married to Al Jolson, was hired to play Peggy Sawyer, a naïve chorus hopeful, who becomes a star. Ginger Rogers played Anytime Annie, a wisecracking chorine who befriends Peggy and the then newbie tenor, Dick Powell played Billy Lawlor, the male tenor.
Champion dies on opening night.

Fast forward to 1980. Legendary Broadway producer David Merrick hopes to reverse a bad run by reversing the usual Broadway to Hollywood route by making a stage musical of that movie. He hires the ailing Gower Champion, the leading stage choreographer to devise that version. The show is an instant and long running success, although, sadly, Champion dies on opening night.

This show has legs and has had several big time remountings. In fact, it is featured this Summer at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. But it is hard to see that that bigger budget production can more than marginally surpass this dedicated amateur ensemble in nearby Vaudreuil-Dorion.
Director Corey Castle, who specializes in musicals, has lived up to his reputation. Amy Cooper, the choreographer, brings a Busby-like feel to this show despite not having cameras to invent odd angles. Her special passion for tap dancing is well suited to this particular show and the 13 character roles and 6 other chorus members swirl about  in a never ending cascade of colourful costumes and little touches.
The only Equity member in the cast, Nadia Verrucci, strutted her stuff as Anytime Annie and was a veritable Energizer bunny on stage. A goodly number were from the Marchand clan which is significant in this 60th year of the club's existence. President Gail Marchand was a commanding presence in the role of Maggie Jones and sewed all the costumes  of many colours. Her husband Andre was the Executive Producer of the show. Son Jordan was perfect as Billy Lawlor and 91 year young spry grandfather Frank Caniff danced a bit in addition to his sedentary role as Oscar, the pianist.
Maggie Owen as Dorothy Brock, the aging star replaced at the last minute by Peggy (Sophie Protopoulos) were excellent in these two key roles. Philippe Gobeille as Julian Marsh, the acerbic director who reluctantly gives Peggy her big chance with the iconic phrase “You're going out there as a youngster, but you're coming back as a Star” is a worthy heir to the late Jerry Orbach who created the stage role (Yes, Orbach was a song and dance guy before evolving into the street smart detective of “Law and Order”).
The excellent performances of all were made easier by the fine songs of Harry Warren and Al Dubin. “Lullaby of Broadway”, “We're in the Money”, and “ I Only Have Eyes for You”have become classics.Veteran pianist Linda Larouche and in demand key boardist Chris Barillaro  give a full orchestral feel to the whole shebang.

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