ALL LINED UP Getting to know the Great White Way.
You know how this story goes: Lovely, ambitious, and impossibly nice tap-dancing ingénue arrives in Depression-era New York City to make it on Broadway, and — by a mingling of pluck, luck, and looks — she gets herself cast as a chorus girl. Before long, her talent and sweetness have won the hearts of just about everyone, and when an accident lays up the show's leading lady, the whole cast rushes to get her out of the chorus and into stardom. This classic American story is the arc of the 1980 hit 42nd Street, a nostalgic love letter to Broadway (based on a novel and its 1933 film adaptation) and a sumptuously produced, winningly acted, and exquisitely danced season finale of the Maine State Music Theatre.
Our heroine is Peggy Sawyer (Alessa Neeck), fresh out of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and she manages to quite literally bump into opportunity: the director of a new musical, Julian Marsh (Patrick Ryan Sullivan, gruff and charming, with a touch of wistfulness), puts her in the line of Pretty Lady, which he hopes will be his come-back production during tough economic times. He's desperate enough that he's cast as the title lady an aging diva who can't dance, Dorothy Brock (Karen Edissi), for funding that comes from her elderly cowboy sugar daddy (Glenn Anderson). "Just put a bunch of girls around her and have her wave her arms around," says Marsh to his skeptical writer/choreographers, Andy and Maggie (the excellent MSMT regulars Raymond Marc Dumont and Charis Leos) "and the public won't know the difference." Complicating the production's odds is Dorothy's lover Pat (Gregg Goodbrod), while meanwhile, the wise-ass and effervescent chorus girls initiate Peggy into the realities of the Great White Way.
The first and last thing to say about this production is that the dancing of the chorus Peggy joins is simply breathtaking — the girls, particularly, are fast, precise, perfectly synched, and gloriously giddy. Hanging out in the alley outside the theater in rehearsal clothes, they riff on and elaborate each other's moves with such receptiveness and glee that it really is as if they're all enjoying a particularly clever and banter-filled conversation.
Back on the set of Pretty Lady, the dancers change into and out of a lavish array of costumes; set and costume designers Charles S. Kading and Kurt Alger motion pay homage to the transforming powers of the theater with high, glittering backdrops and arches, with shiny, spangled outfits that are dazzling in motion and light. In one scene, Dorothy is hit with two strong footlight spots angled to cast her huge shadow on the backdrop. When she catches a glimpse of that larger-than-life shadow, Dorothy delightedly flutters and makes shadow-puppet birds with her hands, as the guys with the spots create constantly-shifting projections of their star. The scene segues into a beautiful, chime-laden ballet sequence with the chorus girls, their lithe double-shadows interweaving like star-lit water.