Young dancers fill `42nd Street' with energy, innocence

August 05, 1999|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Director Bobbi Smith's signature is all over the Talent Machine Company's "42nd Street" production we saw last weekend, especially the high-voltage energy of the young cast and the well-designed choreography.

The 24-member cast, ranging in age from 11 to 18, brings a freshness to this tale of a chorus hoofer's rise to stardom. The show at St. John's College has an authenticity and innocence that mesh well with its 1930s setting.

I watched "42nd Street" with three savvy girls; 14-year-old Jessica, Ashley, 12, and Marie, 7. We all rated the show "superior" and independently chose the same favorite performer -- 18-year-old Sophie Larrimore as chorus girl Ann Reilly. She delivered her lines with a comic accent and acted and danced up a storm.

We also agreed that Steve Love, 13, as Andy Lee is the show's best tap dancer, especially in the demanding "We're in the Money" routine.

The show may set a record for production numbers involving all or nearly all the cast. "Go Into Your Dance," showcasing the expertise of dance character Peggy Sawyer and the chorus girls, was most notable, but I loved "Dames" -- a Ziegfeld-type number with guys in top hat and tails singing to costumed follies girls descending a staircase.

"We're in the Money" tests the stamina and tap skills of the company and "Shuffle off to Buffalo" tested the skill of stagehands as well as cast with curtains opening and shutting in fast sequence to reveal girls in sleeping-car berths.

The "42nd Street Finale" features the whole cast dancing with as much vigor as they had in the opening number. Only teen-agers could deliver so many challenging dance numbers, deal with as many costume changes, and never miss a beat. "Kids can do anything," is a line in the play.

The lead performers are all strong. As fading star Dorothy Brock, 16-year-old Kathleen Scott manages to convey the conflicting emotions about career and love of a woman twice that age. She does justice to the Harry Warren and Al Dubin score.

Eighteen-year-old Jessica Crouse is strong in the role of Sawyer. Easily the best female dancer in the show, she emerges as a star in the script and before our eyes. The role of wisecracking writer Maggie Jones requires comedic talent and a strong stage presence. Corrine Becker, 17, has both and is hilarious in the "Shadow Waltz" number.

As "Pretty Lady" male lead Billy Lawlor, 18-year-old tenor James Flanagan delivers a solid singing and acting performance. The role of director Julian Marsh is expertly played by Dan Sonntag, 17, who has a fine baritone, well displayed in "Lullaby of Broadway" and the title song. Jake Thornhill, 17, plays writer Bert Barry well, and Jeff Paulson is funny in the role of Dorothy's sugar daddy, Abner Dillon.

Music director Kathy Smith has drawn fine vocal performances from every singer. Costumes add greatly to the show, and Anita Bavis, Linda Scott, Shannon Bradel and Peggy Neal deserve credit.

If the girls who saw the show with me are any indication, "42nd Street" will be a winner with audiences who go see it weekends through Aug. 14 at St. John's College. Call 410-956-0512 for reservations.

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