Dancing up a storm on '42nd St.'

August 06, 1993|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

On opening night, anything that can go wrong, usually does. And, yes, the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater's initial performance of "42nd Street" saw more than its share of faulty microphones, audio tape lag and recalcitrant rear stage curtains.

But the 23 youngsters in director-choreographer Bobbi Smith's junior cast never once let these logistical foul-ups affect their feet. And that is a good thing, because "42nd Street," the old Ruby Keller yarn about the sweet kid from Allentown, Pa., who becomes an overnight Broadway sensation, is actually an entire evening's worth of production number finales in which every kid on stage must dance up a storm.

Costume changes -- from tuxes and gowns to trench coats and umbrellas and back again -- are numerous and lightning-quick, which makes for a murderously paced show. In sum, "42nd Street" is far and away the stiffest challenge the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater kids have had to meet. These challenges have been met in fine style.

The lead performers are exceptionally strong. Karen Zucco as Allentown's sweetheart, Peggy Sawyer, comes up as big a star in real life as in the hokey script.

Nicole Roblyer puts her talents to good use as the prickly Dorothy Brock, the fading star replaced by the unknown newcomer. Pam Diedrich, already an accomplished comedian at the age of 18 , is a howl as Maggie, the ever-helpful assistant, while Matt Garrity proves once again that a 14-year old can indeed be a polished song and dance man. Tiffani Baldwin, here sporting a bit of a Betty Boop voice, gives her customary 200 percent every second she's on stage.

But the evening's most subtly drawn performance is turned in by Ben Lambert as Julian March, the hard-luck producer scrounging for a hit. Marsh is the script's cliche master ("You're goin' out there a youngster, kid, but ya gotta come back a star."), but Lambert doesn't overdo it. At times, he takes his character beyond the blather and makes him vulnerable and real.

The choreography, as it should, steals the show. The kids look terrific, whether clunking around scenery in the very funny silhouette sequence, or in the sassy, vintage-30s "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," in which the stage is transformed into a string of sleeper car berths.

Charles Alexander, the music director, has the kids singing well for the most part, and even an Annapolis Summer Garden Theater recorded tape actually sounds splendid. When cued to the right spot, of course.

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