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From the snow of White Christmas to the satire of The Producers, San Diego Musical Theatre can’t resist a show-within-a-show. The backstage musical comedy 42nd Street, on view at the Spreckels Theatre through June 12, is jammed with terrific tap dancing and classic tunes that stick in your head.

The Company of "42nd Street," presented by San Diego Musical Theatre. Photo: Ken Jacques

The Company of “42nd Street,” presented by San Diego Musical Theatre. Photo: Ken Jacques

The production directed by James Vasquez is so entertaining you can almost forget its woefully dated plot. Compared to shows like Hamilton and Bright Star, it’s far from illuminating.

Still, this 42nd Street is a worthy ode to Broadway.  You’ll want to climb on stage and shuffle off to Buffalo with the sparkling cast.

Jill Gorrie’s choreography, after Busby Berkeley, includes exhilarating tap numbers with eye-pleasing wings, triples, and pull backs, all in sharp unison.

It opens with Don LeMaster conducting musicians in the pit, “where they belong” says Bets Malone, who plays Maggie Jones, the fearless co-writer and producer of the show in a show “Pretty Lady.”  When the curtain rises, the stage rumbles with tap dancing feet that make our hearts race.

Bets Malone* - Maggie Jones & Laura Dickinson* - Dorothy Brock. Photo: Ken Jacques

Bets Malone* – Maggie Jones & Laura Dickinson* – Dorothy Brock. Photo: Ken Jacques

As big as the production is, 42nd Street is a speck of dust story about hoofers and singers and a famed director trying to mount a musical extravaganza during the Great Depression. Shin busters are thrilled to make $32 a week.

Laura Dickinson is a commanding presence as Dorothy Brock, the diva who can’t dance. Her sultry voice shines in “I Know Now,” and her timing is swift. One minute she’s Cruella DeVille, the next she’s channeling Lucille Ball when rolled off stage while perched on a giant ladder.

Ruth Jones plays the ingénue Peggy Sawyer from Allentown, Penn. Dressed in a dowdy sailor frock, she arrives to the audition late, but impresses with tap dancing at warp speed. Her hyperactive shtick would never fly in real life. She can’t stay in formation and slams into everyone, including the boss.

Robert J. Townsend* - Julian Marsh & Ashley Ruth Jones - Peggy Sawyer. Photo: Ken Jacques

Robert J. Townsend* – Julian Marsh & Ashley Ruth Jones – Peggy Sawyer. Photo: Ken Jacques

Silvery Robert Townsend, a longtime favorite, plays director Julian Marsh with aplomb and draws ovations for his big voiced “Lullaby of Broadway” and “42nd Street Reprise.”

He’s the director we love to hate. When rehearsing for her big debut, he gives dingy Peggy deep kisses until her voice and personality changes.  She needs a man to help her blossom into a real star. Oh my. Even her hair goes from frizzy to straight. What a funny and creepy scene rolled into one.

Based on the 1933 Hollywood film adaptation, the musical remains wildly popular because of its giant tap dance numbers, top hats and canes, and soft shoe grapevines. Gabriel Navarro, a splendid hoofer and singer, plays Billy Lawlor the leading tenor, and shimmers in silver atop a giant coin.

The show includes tunes gleaned from several films such as “We’re in the Money” (San Diegans may remember it as a radio jingle for La Jolla Bank and Trust) and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” which has some of the funniest lines about divorce in Reno. Malone brings the house down here.  A few songs written in high registers may be too whiny for modern ears.

The show delivers. Costumes are colorful and aptly vintage. Scenic design is spare yet effective, switching from backstage, to on stage, and a honeymoon train.

Nobody goes on a honeymoon train anymore, but this production is a fun and family friendly ride. When Townsend slows the tempo in the final “42nd Street” reprise, you can’t help but sing along, onto Broadway Avenue and all the way to your car.

“Come and meet those dancing feet,
On the avenue I’m taking you to,
Forty-Second Street.
Hear the beat of dancing feet,
It’s the song I love the melody of,
Forty-Second Street…”

42nd Street continues through June 12 2016 at the Spreckels Theatre.  Visit www.sdmt.org or call 858.560.5740.

 

Kris Eitland

Kris Eitland

Kris Eitland covers dance and theater for Sandiegostory.com and freelances for other publications, including the Union Tribune and Dance Teacher Magazine. She grew up performing many dance styles and continued intensive modern dance and choreography at the Univ. of Minnesota, Duluth, and San Diego State Univ. She also holds a journalism degree from SDSU. Her career includes stints in commercial and public radio news production. Eitland has won numerous Excellence in Journalism awards for criticism and reporting from the San Diego Press Club. She has served on the Press Club board since 2011 and is a past president. She is a co-founder of Sandiegostory.com. She has a passion for the arts, throwing parties with dancing and singing, and cruising the Pacific in her family's vintage trawler. She trains dogs, skis, and loves seasonal trips to her home state of Minnesota.

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