Review by Danny Gaisin
The bane of a critic is facing a situation where he or she is going to be classified as a publicist or worse, hack. It’s our job to be constructively diagnostic. But, what does one do when facing something so precious as to be totally without flaw or fault. Advice given this scribe – confess; and then roll out the superlatives! Photo courtesy of David Hou
42nd STREET was written in 1980 by the duo of Stewart & Bramble. Harry Warren wrote the music with lyrics by Al Dubin. Gower Champion choreographed & directed the original Broadway staging under the meticulous oversight by David Merrick. For any Broadway fan, that -dear readers; with the exception of “R & H” is about as good a bit of name-dropping as it gets! The story is about a young actress circa 1930, looking for a show business break just as a new musical is being cast. ‘Pretty Lady’ is being ‘angelled’ by a Texan enamoured with a somewhat ageing musical comedy star. He’ll back the show but she’s to have the lead role. She falters, the kid steps in and as Irving Berlin wrote “♫Yesterday they told you, you would not go far; that night you open and there you are…next day on your dressing room they hang a star ♪”… yup- There IS no business like SHOW BUSINESS.
After a Stratford hiatus, Cynthia Dale is back; a new and improved Cynthia Dale. The voice is mellower and the acting skills expanded and honed. Her Dorothy Brock is an arrogant hard hitting bitch who still retains her vocal & lyric-memorizing talents. But like a sabra-fruit, we see a sensitive and caring interior beneath the harsh surface. There are three men in her life; Steve Ross is the sugar Daddy; C. David Johnson plays her ex-agent and true love; and Sean Arbuckle is the play’s producer forced to work with her against his every instinct. There are three Cynthia’s as Dorothy interacts with each of her men. She’s amazing in each iteration, but she also has another persona: – her antipathetic & resentful bitch towards the young but talented ingénue ‘Peggy’.
Four years ago, we saw Jennifer Shaw (now Rider-Shaw) in a Sheridan performance of ‘A new brain’. At that time I foretold a successful thespian career with the following:-
“Rhoda, a friend-without-benefits to Schwinn. Her role decidedly stands out because of Jennifer Shaw’s dynamism. She obviously holds nothing back: – physically or vocally. Her face is definitively expressive; every emotion is fully projected to the audience.”
The same holds true with her performance as Peggy Sawyer. Naturally, as a Sheridan graduate she’s a triple threat. She can dance up a storm; sing as well as Dale herself, and her acting has – if –anything- even improved. There is one scene near the end of Act II where Dale arrives en-wheel chaired for what I assumed would be the usual hair-pulling session. Instead we see cross-generational bonding; advice then a duet that is so warm & emotional I had to restrain the urge to bolt onstage and give both heroines a deserved & appreciative hug.
This particular passage is a directorial gem. Gary Griffin whose opening scene is faultless and mood setting, achieves a new height with the subtlety of the above moment. Peggy sits as far away from Dorothy as the chaise permits. As the relationship progresses, she moves closer until the two almost touch. Their vocal amalgamation and what it symbolizes is theatre in its purest form.
The choreographic chorus numbers, especially the “Lullaby of Broadway” hit must have the late Busby Berkeley ‘kvelling’. Act II’s title song is as descriptively impressive as the “Gotta Dance” bit in ‘Singing in the Rain”. Dale introduces her “I know now” aria a cappella and is a personal career highlight…the audience response was tumultuous. Another show-stopper moment is the ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ rendering. Personal note explaining the wet eyes… My Red Cross Rescue team-members & I sang this every morning during our deployment. Our Ground Zero base was located at 50 Broadway!
Reviewers often say this is a ‘must-see’. 42nd STREET is also a ‘don’t dare miss’!!!!