Broadway's siren song is seductive. Reverberating from the concrete canyons of the Great White Way, across America's heartland and to London's storied West End, it's captivating, clever and heartbreaking in the stories it tells.
It sings out loudly and clearly in "42nd Street," the ultimate backstage Broadway musical, now playing in a fabulous production at the Ogunquit Playhouse through July 13.
Set in 1933, "42nd Street" tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a talented, tap-dancing ingénue from Allentown, Pa., played with panache by Jessica Wockenfuss, who comes to New York with stars in her eyes and hope in her heart.
She's cast in the chorus of "Pretty Lady," a new show under legendary Broadway director Julian Marsh's direction and starring difficult diva Dorothy Brock, convincingly played by Broadway star Rachel York. Alas, Dorothy falls and breaks her ankle during rehearsal — or did Peggy step out of line and trip her?
No matter. Marsh opts to close the show during its Philly tryouts — until the chorus kids push him into pressuring Peggy to step into Dorothy's role, ultimately saving the show and their jobs.
Julian, played by a stalwart, steady Steve Blanchard, convinces her with a mesmerizing rendition of "Lullaby of Broadway" and puts her through 36 grueling hours of rehearsals to learn the lines, songs and dances. She does, of course, and transforms from fresh-faced ingénue to dazzling star on opening night, much to the delight of her love interest, Billy Lawlor (an adorable Con O'Shea-Creal), and everyone on stage and in the thrilled audience.
Randy Skinner, the late, great Gower Champion's assistant on the original 1980 production, directs and choreographs this dynamite Playhouse production. It features the creative rhythms and dance steps that he introduced in the 2001 revival, which most recently played London's West End for two years.
The curtain rises on an impressive array of dozens of tap-dancing feet in the opening number — and that dancing doesn't let up for the show's entire 2 1/2-hour duration.
One breathtaking production number follows another, it seems, complete with shimmering costumes and bravado dancing. Act I favorites include the seductive "Dames" for its gorgeous costumes, and the glittery "We're in the Money" with its clever, energetic choreography.
In Act II, the delightful "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" provides comic relief and gives Playhouse favorite Sally Struthers, playing Maggie Jones, another chance to display her sublime comedic chops — something she does charmingly each season.
The Act II finale — a show-stopping dance number done on steps, no less, with the entire talented ensemble performing perfect tap moves — provides the icing on the cake for this delectable show.
"42nd Street," the musical, is originally based on the Depression-era movie musical that Warner Bros. made in 1933 to help lift folks' spirits and forget their troubles for a while.
These days, we need our spirits lifted in our own troubling times. "42nd Street" does that and then some. See it soon and be ready to laugh, clap and leave the Playhouse with a smile on your face, a song in your heart and a dance in your step.