Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 1999
“Come on and meet
Those dancing feet.
On the avenue
I’m takin’ you to –
– Al Dubin
This is it. The Mac-Haydn has pulled out all the stops and come up with an all singing, all dancing extravaganza. Pack up grandma, grandpa and the kiddies and head to Chatham this week if you know what’s good for you.
This is what the Mac-Haydn does best. They opened strong this season with “The Music Man” but then got bogged down in a series of shows that required serious acting along with the singing and dancing. Their triumphant return with “42nd Street” shows that they really do best when they cut the drama and stick to the song and dance.
“42nd Street” is a thoroughly old-fashioned musical which had its Broadway debut in 1980. The legendary David Merrick shrewedly brought the 1933 Dick Powell film to the stage, and employed the late Gower Champion to direct and choreograph the show. Champion died the day this show opened on Broadway. Merrick announced the sad news at the curtain call and star Jerry Orbach threw the theatre in to a panic when he shouted “Bring it in!” He meant the curtain, the audience thought he meant the corpse.
The plot is your boiler plate “star is born” scenario – young innocent from Allentown, PA, goes out an unknown and comes back a star. Unfortunately that transformation is not successfully completed. This show didn’t turn Wanda Richert (Wanda who??) into a star on Broadway in 1980, and it certainly didn’t do the trick for Rosalie Hunter at the Mac-Haydn. But the show did take the Tony for Best New Musical in 1981, and it sure takes the prize for the Mac-Haydn’s best production of 1999.
For one thing, this show looks great! Jimm Halliday has designed 250 spectacular costumes for this production, and Jason Leigh Courson has dared to create more of a set than I have seen at the Mac-Haydn in a long time.
And then there is the company. One of the fun things of going to all the shows at a theatre like the Mac-Haydn is seeing the resident company do its thing, show after show. Shows like “My Fair Lady” and “West Side Story” which focus heavily on the principals and keep chorus numbers to a minimum don’t give the stalwart regulars a chance to strut their stuff. This show, which really focuses on the chorus girls and boys, is a real chance for the corps to shine. And they do, literally in Halliday’s sparkling costumes, and figuratively by pulling out all the stops in their dance numbers.
This show is a tap-dance extravaganza. Director/choreographer Dennis Edenfield gets more feet flying on the Mac-Haydn’s tiny theatre-in-the-round stage than seems humanly possible. Everything comes together in “We’re In The Money” with snazzy costumes, great choreography, precise dancing on top of giant coins, and a tune we all know and love.
While I didn’t find Hunter as ingenue Peggy Sawyer to be star material, but Patty McClure as the over-the-hill star Dorothy Brock, and Rob Richardson as Merrick doppelganger Julian Marsh are talents to be reckoned with. Mac-Haydn regulars Shannon Polly and Jed Alexander turned in their usual fine performances in the character roles of the show’s writers. Polly was lots of fun as a bride who’s been there in “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”. The success of “42nd Street” bodes well for the Mac-Haydn’s next offering, Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”. While neither the theatre nor their audiences would want season after season of mindless musicals, the Mac-Haydn does well to throw in a couple every year so that we can be reminded of what they really do best – sing and dance.
“42nd Street” runs through August 8 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Route 203 just north of the center of Chatham, NY. The show runs two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission. For tickets and information call the box office at 518-392-9292.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999