42nd Street staves off disaster with stellar dancing
There are two key components to any good musical: music and dancing. If it falters in either one of those areas, chances are it won’t be a success. Occasionally, the music is so good or the dancing so unnecessary that it can supersede this idea, but it's rare.
And then you have 42nd Street, a corny-as-hell story with middling-to-bad songs that somehow still wins you over due to its stellar tap dancing. It’s right there in the show’s tagline: “Come and meet those dancing feet,” a line from the titular song. They say nothing about great music or great singing — it’s just about the dancing.
Of course, there has to be some kind of story to set up the choreography. Set in 1933, Peggy Sawyer (Caitlin Ehlinger) arrives in New York with dreams of being a Broadway star. She hooks on with the budding production of PrettyLady, the latest surefire hit from director Julian Marsh (Matthew J. Taylor).
Her talents are immediately apparent to everyone in the show and are contrasted with those of Dorothy Brock (Kaitlin Lawrence), the star who can sing with the best of them but can’t dance worth a lick. The story of a talented newcomer going up against an aging veteran has been told innumerable times, so the plot is utterly predictable.
Save for a few numbers — “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “42nd Street” — none of the songs are all that memorable. And even when they are, they are usually just an excuse to set up another spectacular dance number, pushing the singing aside.
It’s hard to argue with the thrill of seeing such skillful dancing on display. The show opens with an impressive showcase, and then other numbers are thrown in the mix every so often so you don’t concentrate too much on the lesser elements. Everyone in the company is up to the dancing challenge, and the routines are so intricate and nonstop that it leaves the audience exhausted just from watching.
Were the dancing not so great, the somewhat questionable acting and cheesy storyline would be a much bigger deal. The production, which is based on the 1930s movie and originally debuted in 1980, seems to pay homage to the over-the-top acting style prevalent in '30s. This can either be highly amusing or grating, depending on your point of view.
While 42nd Street can’t hold a candle to the best touring shows, as a pure display of hoofing, it will leave you breathless.
Performing Arts Fort Worth presents 42nd Street at Bass Performance Hall through July 17.