Show goes on brightly in '42nd Street'

June 15, 1995|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

"42nd Street" is the archetypal show-biz musical. Based on Bradford Ropes' novel and the 1933 Busby Berkeley film of the same name, it created the cliche of the star who breaks her ankle and is replaced by an unknown chorus girl who becomes an overnight sensation.

In other words, the show -- with a score by Harry Warren and Al Dubin and a book by Michael Stewart and former Marylander Mark Bramble -- is the theatrical embodiment of the American Dream.

Putting this type of material across takes lots of high-stepping, toe-tapping razzmatazz. At Cockpit in Court, where "42nd Street" is the first mainstage show of the season, the production isn't perfect, but it's slick enough to earn high marks for a small theater tackling a large-scale endeavor.

Much of the credit probably belongs to director/choreographer Tom Wyatt, who is making his Cockpit directorial debut. Wyatt injects enough pep into the show to keep it from descending into corn, or worse, camp. (So he can be forgiven for cutting songs, including "Shuffle Off to Buffalo.") He also has a knack for moving a substantial cast on and off stage smoothly, and he knows how to make one scene segue into the next with cinematic grace.

For instance, when the cast of "Pretty Lady," the show-within-the-show, heads to Philadelphia for its Broadway tryout, the number expands until the entire chorus is dancing with suitcases, and then seamlessly evolves into one of "Pretty Lady's" production numbers, "Dames," performed on stage during a dress rehearsal in Philadelphia.

"42nd Street" also calls for precision tap dancing, and Cockpit's production struts its stuff from the opening scene, in which Ernie Ritchey -- as character actor Andy Lee -- puts a stage-full of auditioning hoofers through their paces.

The lead actors are a bit more uneven. As Dorothy Brock, the injured star, Judy Shannon has the grande-dame persona down pat, and she does an especially good job selling her solo, "I Know Now."

As Peggy Sawyer, Brock's replacement, Jennifer Viets is better at the naive "I'm-just-a-kid-from-Allentown" part of her role than she is at delivering the requisite star-is-born charisma. When we first see her, dressed in a little polka-dot dress and with her hair a mass of reddish-brown curls, she looks like a grown-up version of Annie. Appropriately, her eventual leading man and love interest, played by Jeff Burch, looks like a rosy-cheeked, clean-cut, all-American boy.

As Julian Marsh, "Pretty Lady's" director, Chip Meister sports a mustache and slicked-back dark hair -- obvious references to "42nd Street's" original theatrical producer, David Merrick. But just as Merrick could be, well, difficult, so March is supposed to be a demanding slave driver, and Meister's portrayal lacks that tough, domineering edge.

Lori Cipollini distinguishes herself in the smaller role of a chorus girl who befriends Peggy. In one of those nice community theater touches, she is joined on stage by her father, Duane, who plays Dorothy Brock's true love, and her brother Craig, who plays a stage manager.

Like the title of one of its songs, "42nd Street" truly is a "Lullaby of Broadway," but Cockpit's production won't lull you to sleep -- it'll leave you humming and tapping your feet.

'42ND STREET'

Where: Cockpit in Court, Essex Community College, 7201 Rossville Blvd.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and 7 p.m. June 25; through June 25

Tickets: $13

Call: (410) 780-6369

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