“42nd Street”
2005 Season


You'll want to come and meet these dancing feet


August 2, 2005

It wasn't planned that way, but "42nd Street" has turned into a musical in memoriam at Gateway Playhouse. It wasn't planned that way on Broadway, either, when on opening night in 1981, producer David Merrick announced from the stage that director Gower Champion had died that very day.

There were no such postmortems opening night last week at Gateway Playhouse - just a note in the program by Robin Joy Allan that "42nd Street" was by far her dad's favorite musical. Before his death in March, Stan Allan - longtime Brookhaven town clerk and Gateway co-owner/co-producer with his wife, Ruth - knew that "42nd Street" would be dancing again on his family's stage.

Thanks to the impeccable casting of his daughter and the resourcefulness of his son, Paul, the successor as Gateway's producer, the current "42nd Street" dances with inspired and infectious joy.

Sure, the never-in-a-million-years premise persists: A nobody from Allentown, Pa., taps and sings her way to instant stardom on Broadway, spring-stepping over the ankle cast of a prima donna who took the "Break a leg!" wishes literally.

Laura Schutter, fresh-faced and breathless as Peggy Sawyer, fulfills the ingenue-chorine's impossible mission to save the show: "You're goin' out there a youngster, but you've gotta come back a star!" Her torchy tango tap number triumphs as an alternately poignant and peppery showstopper.

The director who issues Sawyer those tall marching orders finds imperiously perfect pitch as portrayed by Hal Davis, the captain of "Titanic" on Broadway and at Gateway. His slow-simmering "Lullaby of Broadway" builds to a feel-good gusto, as do all the big production numbers, shepherded by director DJ Salisbury, choreographer Mary Giattino and music director Phyllis Gessler. From the flashy green-and-silver "We're in the Money" to the anthemic title song, this "42nd Street" delivers unabashed smiles, just as dance master Busby Berkeley intended in his Depression-era movie of the same name.

Set coordinator Kelly Tighe brings the disparate glitter pieces together into unfolding scenic context, from the sleeper-car frolics of "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" to the bright-lights street itself.

Ryan Murray as Peggy's volunteer love interest makes a nimble on-the-make chorus boy, while Ann-Ngaire Martin and Michael Farina as the troupe's comic duet camp it up like vaudeville naturals. Marcy McGuigan as Dorothy Brock, the star whose broken ankle gives Peggy her break, straddles nasty and sympathetic sides with smoky-voiced bravado.

Stan Allan's family says he used to bug them each winter about "42nd Street," tops on his summer wish list. Twice in the past 24 years he got his wish. Now, this third-time charmer taps on through Aug. 13, when, in Allan's honor, Gateway stages the "42nd Street" finale at the Broadway-size Patchogue Theatre.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.

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Let me start with what would normally be my final sentence. If you don't already have tickets and you enjoy musicals, beg, borrow or call the box office right away. Whatever you do, don't miss this first class production of one of the great musicals of all time.

High marks to the Gateway team who has brought together a very talented and engaging cast that truly works together in every aspect of singing, dancing and acting; from top leads to the girls and guys in the ensemble. One should not forget to pay tribute to the orchestra, ably led by Phyllis Gessler, which brought exactly the right feel of the period to the score. From the first moment, when the curtain slowly rises displaying those dancing feet, to the triumphant finale, when the chorus girl is hailed as a star, the audience loved the show and with very good reason.

It's interesting, really, that this show, which in so many ways epitomizes the vagaries, the heartbreak and the elusive quest for success endured by those who choose to make their careers in show business, was written by two men whose names today are far from household words. Harry Warren and Al Dudin wrote the music for the original Busby Berkeley classic film back in 1933 and these songs with others from their repertoire were used when the musical was brought to Broadway in 1980.

But back to the Gateway production. Director D.J. Salisbury made everything and everyone contribute to their fullest. The dance sequences were electric. The highest praise must go to Mary Giattino for the way she handled and interpreted Gower Champion's great choreography. Mary comes from Patchogue and she has danced in major touring shows and this is her first project on the Main Stage at Gateway. Dance captain Karl Duhoffman effortlessly led an accomplished team who tapped and danced the night away. Marianne Dominy's selection of costumes was inspired and the visual appeal of the show was superb.

The interplay, good and bad, between the aging star, Dorothy Brock, and her producer, and between her current "sugar daddy" and her long time love and ex-partner Pat Denning and finally, most importantly between Dorothy and the bumbling ingénue, Peggy Sawyer, are very important to the whole show. Marcy McGuigan was perfect as Dorothy. Her poignant solo number "I Know Now" encapsulated all of those mixed emotions and problems of a "not so young anymore" actress, desperate about the future of her career. Hal Davis looked and acted the part of Julian Marsh, the Broadway producer, very convincingly and used his strong baritone voice to good effect as he led the cast in the show stopping "Lullaby of Broadway" Lew Lloyd was a great foil as Abner, the mega-rich hick who thought that bankrolling the show would ensure Dorothy's love. Then, in the role of Dorothy's true love, Pat Denning, Steve Luker came over as the reliable sort of person who really would be there through thick and thin despite a few beatings arranged by Julian Marsh to deter him from upsetting Abner and making him take his money out of the show.

Now, every leading lady of that time had to have a handsome young man as her lead and the boyish charms and great voice of Ryan Murray, in the role of Bill Lawlor, coupled with his obvious eye for any other young lady who might come along, were seen and heard to the fullest in the number, "Dames," where the beauties of the chorus line in glamorous clothes could be appreciated to the fullest.

But the show really is about Peggy Sawyer, just in to the Big Apple from Allentown, PA, with high hopes that her high school drama experience will be enough to land her a Broadway job. Laura Schutter was an absolute delight in her portrayal of this unsophisticated girl coming to terms with the realities of show business and then being rapidly propelled to the part that everyone knows, even those who have never seen the show. That is when deputizing for the injured Dorothy, and waiting for her cue to go on stage to play the lead on opening night on Broadway, she is told by Julian Marsh, "You're going out there a youngster and you're coming back a star!" Maybe a bit trite, maybe banal, but isn't this what artists dream about?

Ann-Ngaire Martin in the role of Maggie Jones exhibited a wonderful blend of "been there seen it all" show business worldliness, blended with a heart of gold, and her comedic skills showed well in that great number, "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" with her partner, the equally funny and professional Michael Farina in the role of Bert Barry.

All in all a memorable evening. Because of the unprecedented demand for tickets, Gateway is extending the run until August 13th and the final week will be at the larger Patchogue Theater. For the Gateway Box Office, call 286-1133.

-Roy Bradbrook

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