A Sunny Side to Every Situation
In Coronado Playhouse’s stripped down “42nd Street” revival, the tap happy choreography is the star of the show
By Donnie Matsuda
Some might say it is in bad taste, maybe even financially irresponsible, to produce a show like 42nd Street during our current recession racked times. The show, as classic as Broadway musicals get, is a lavish, opulent, eye-popping spectacle with one high-energy, over-the-top, crowd-pleasing dance number after the next. When it is done as intended (with an endless sea of glitzy, glamorous costumes, over ten visually stunning sets, a thirteen piece orchestra, and a large chorus of synchronized hoofers), it comes with a pretty hefty price tag.
Fortunately for their producers, that’s not the kind of production that Coronado Playhouse is mounting. Instead, their current revival of 42nd Street is stripped down to the bare bones and very much in line with our current-day penny-pinching philosophy. But oddly enough, when presented without all its spectacular razzle-dazzle effects, the heart of this Depression-era musical actually emerges and it resonates quite well with today’s sensibilities. Soon, it becomes clear that this tap happy musical is not just about extravagant costumes or larger-than-life sets. Beneath the spectacle, there is an important message about the value of hard work and dedication to something you believe in…and the potential for that hard work to pay off. As Julian Marsh says in the show, “You’re going to dance till your feet fall off and you aren’t able to stand up, but five weeks from now, Pretty Lady’s going to be the best damn show this town’s ever seen!”
Pretty Lady, of course, is the fictional show within a show that young, naïve Peggy Sawyer (a bright eyed, tap savvy Melisa De Seguirant) auditions for upon arriving in the Big Apple with big dreams. When she finally gets cast in the ensemble after a chance encounter with show producer Julian Marsh (a commanding Danny Ingersoll) and with some prodding by show choreographer Andy Lee (here played by a woman, Jennifer Solomon-Rubio, who is a solid hoofer herself), she couldn’t be more thrilled. But, her dreams are quickly destroyed when she is fired for allegedly pushing the show’s leading lady, Dorothy Brock (a snide Francena Bragg), causing her to break her ankle. When it looks as if the show won’t go on, the entire Pretty Lady company, including the show’s leading man Billy Lawlor (a silky voiced Bryan Banville), rallies behind Peggy and convinces her to come back and take Dorothy’s place as the star of the show.
While the book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble is mostly fluff, the real reason 42nd Street exists is to showcase some catchy tunes by Harry Warren and Al Dubin (which include such Broadway standards as “Getting Out of Town,” “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” and the show’s title tune). But the true pièce de résistance of this musical lies in the incredible tap dance sequences brilliantly conceived in the original 1980 Broadway production by legendary choreographer Gower Champion. When the show was revived in 2001, Randy Skinner took on the choreographic reigns and kept much of Champion’s original choreography intact, while also putting his own innovative stamp on the show.
Here at Coronado Playhouse, choreographer Jennifer Solomon-Rubio doesn’t borrow much from Champion or Skinner; instead, she infuses the show with her own brand of tap - one that has some nice syncopated rhythms and unexpected twists and turns. When executed well, her choreographic creations actually steal the spotlight and very frequently become the highlight of the show.
Aiding Solomon-Rubio in bringing this magical musical to life is director Chrissy Burns. Burns makes the most out of an incredibly cramped and claustrophobic-feeling stage by keeping the dancing front and center and allowing most of the book scenes to play out on a platform far upstage. Meanwhile, musical director Rick Shaffer pipes in some pre-recorded music over the sound system (as there is no orchestra here) and accompanies some of the scenes using an onstage piano. And Chad Oakley’s unadorned set consists of one upstage platform flanked by stairs on each side.
While they may not exactly be “in the money” with this revival, Coronado Playhouse has definitely found the heart of the piece and it beats (and taps) as strong as ever.
Things to know before you go: 42nd Street plays at Coronado Playhouse through March 4th, 2012. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm with Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tickets are $20-$25 with discounts for students, seniors, and military. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (619) 435-4856 or visit www.coronadoplayhouse.com.