"42nd Street" Soars on Pure Broadway-Style Razzle-Dazzle at Paramount Theatre

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 01/19/2014, 12:47am

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The coins roll in "We're In the Money" in the Paramount Theatre  production of "42nd Street."

The coins roll in “We’re In the Money” in the Paramount Theatre production of “42nd Street.”

‘42nd Street’
When: Through Feb. 9
Where: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora
Tickets: $36.90-$49.90
Info: (630) 896-6666; www.ParamountAurora.com
Run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission

Talk about a knockout opening in the grand tradition of old Broadway: Just take a look at what has been done by director Rachel Rockwell, choreographer Tammy Mader, music director Doug Peck and his superb orchestra, and the brilliant rat-a-tat-tat dancers of “42nd Street” — the latest show to get the razzle-dazzle treatment as part of the Broadway Series at Aurora’s historic Paramount Theatre.

To start, there’s a lush, old-fashioned overture that begins with that irresistibly upbeat, anti-Depression era tune, “We’re In the Money,” just one of the many peerless songs (including “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”) in the Harry Warren-Al Dubin score initially devised for the 1933 film classic.

Then, there’s the big, hard-tapping audition scene that easily puts the opening of “A Chorus Line” to shame with its relentlessly propulsive energy. This number immediately seals the deal, and here’s the kicker: There are a slew of additional numbers in the show that match it beat for beat, kick for kick.

Finally, there is the fleet, zippily comic storytelling and character introduction (the book is the work of Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble), as we learn that the veteran producer, charismatic Julian Marsh (Larry Adams in top form), has wrangled the money to put on a new musical, “Pretty Lady.”

True, he’s stuck with his leading lady, Dorothy Brock (Catherine Lord, particularly impressive in her generous farewell scene), who is a bit past her prime, and enough of dancer a dancer for a dance-driven show. But she’s got a sugar daddy helping Marsh with the financing, and after all, times are tough and there are 100 jobs at stake.
Enter Peggy Sawyer (Laura Savage, a formidable talent who, in this marathon role, easily makes the leap — in real life — from supporting actress to triple-threat star). A pretty, wide-eyed, hugely talented young singer-dancer from Allentown, Pa., Sawyer has arrived late for the audition, but she catches the eye of lead dancer Billy Lawlor (Tyler Hanes, a charming New York import who sings and dances up a storm), and very quickly wins a spot in the chorus. Of course ultimately she will step in for the injured leading lady and make good on the ultimatum Marsh issues: “You’re going out a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star!”

Rockwell and Mader are a sensational, ever innovative team — Chicago’s latter-day answers to Busby Berkeley (who choreographed the film) and Gower Champion (who staged the 1980 Broadway show). They have cast the production ideally. And for a set design that spares no expense, Kevin Depinet has devised a whimsical vintage mix of neon, footlights and show-within-a-show delights heightened by ingenious projection work by Anna Henson and Liviu Pasare. Theresa Ham’s scores of period perfect costumes further animate this pure escapist entertainment.

Leggy Dina DiCostanzo is full of spice as lead dancer Annie, and there are zesty character turns by Richard Strimer as the dance master, James Rank as Brock’s love interest, and Nancy Voigts and Michael Weber as vaudevillian-like songwriters in this show that suggests both the magic of Broadway and show people, and the many crushing disappointments they can face.

I’ve long since given up on signaling Broadway in Chicago that the Paramount’s shows easily outshine 90 per cent of the touring productions that land in the Loop. So here’s another idea: Why not just move some of these revivals straight onto the real 42nd Street?

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com
Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic