Based on the classic Warner Brothers 1933 musical of the same name, 42nd Street is a nostalgic look at the backstage shenanigans of a Broadway musical, even though it’s not technically about the real Broadway at all. It’s a fantasy version of the Great White Way as seen through the prism of Hollywood. That’s why when you first enter the house at Spotlight Youth Theater, the large white screen framed by black curtains that face you are perfectly appropriate; it actually has the feel of entering a small town, period movie theater.
The 1980 musical version came at a time when Broadway was beginning to tap in to the idea of revivals as a way of filling theaters, only in this case, instead of reviving a show, the producers turned to the movies for their source of nostalgia. In the same way that the film aimed at helping audiences temporarily forget the Depression, Spotlight Youth Theatre’s opening production at its home base in Glendale is a wonderful way of helping audiences temporarily escape the late summer doldrums; it’s the theater’s season opener and it’s great fun.
Peggy Sawyer (Katie Czajkowski) is the wide-eyed innocent fresh off the bus from Allentown, Pennsylvania. She’s in New York to follow her dreams at a time when money and employment, not to mention food, were hard to come by. She does what many other young women of New York did at the time – as a way escaping the reality of starving on the streets she auditions for the chorus of a Broadway show. Fortunately for Peggy, she’s actually better than many of the girls already dancing, and in true wish-fulfillment Hollywood style, it’s not long before she’s hired. You’re familiar with the rest; the prima donna star, Dorothy Brock (Kira Kadel) breaks an ankle and it’s young Peggy, the chorus girl, who goes on in her place. “You’re going out there as a youngster,” declares director Julian Marsh (Michael Schultz), “But you’ve got to come back a star!”
The show uses the Harry Warren and Al Dubin songs from the film but adds several additional Warren-Dubin numbers of its own. If you remember the film, you might recall there are surprisingly long periods between songs; the best ones saved for the final twenty minutes or so. The show is different. The score continues throughout. It even begins with one of the best dancing sequences in the live presentation. After hearing several voices declaring with excitement that there’s about to be a new show in town, the curtain rises on rows of tap dancing feet then fully reveals a cast of hoofers eagerly auditioning for the new production, Pretty Lady. It’s a great beginning and a treat for lovers of musical theater who constantly bemoan the absence of tap-dancing in modern shows.
The young cast tackles Alicia Frazier’s demanding tap-dancing choreography with the same kind of energy displayed by those Hollywood hoofers of the time. As mentioned above, many of the penniless chorus girls during the Depression turned to both Broadway and Hollywood to escape the streets. As a consequence, several were hired for their looks rather than ability which is why when you see some of those old black and white Hollywood movies of the early thirties or newsreel clips of Broadway, much of the dancing and its timing are suspect. Within a few years, as talkies began to rule, the standard soon changed, but in 1933 when 42nd Street takes place, that’s how it was.
Even though the Spotlight Youth Theatre production doesn’t have early thirties realism on its mind, when some of the cast, particularly younger members, forget to smile or they quickly glance down to check their steps, or they simply lose their rhythm for a moment when everyone should be dancing as one, in many respects, the look takes on a certain moment of surprising realism that truly reflects the time. Perhaps the production could be called out for a lack of tightness, or that an extra rehearsal or two might have helped make a couple of the big set pieces such as Lullaby of Broadway or the climactic Forty-Second Street appear stronger, but if viewed from the way things used to be, you’re happy to overlook the occasional timing misstep or a technical flub; that’s sort of how it was.
Kira Kadel as prima donna Dorothy has a standout duet with Peggy with About a Quarter to Nine, while Sydnie Greger comically shines as chorus girl Anytime Annie. Phoenix Briggs delivers the right amount of eager, boyish charm as Billy, but the two you’ll remember are Michael Schulz as demanding director Julian Marsh and Katie Czajkowski as Peggy.
Over the last few years of attending Spotlight it’s good to see local young talent develop season by season in a direction suggesting a future career, and in this production both Michael and Katie have taken the casting opportunity afforded and, under director Kenny Grossman’s guidance, delivered the kind of performances deserving of extra future attention. Those individual moments when both actors share the stage, working together, help elevate the overall production to another level. And if together they can’t help you forget the late summer doldrums, nothing will.
For more regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the Spotlight Youth Theatre website.