The City Springs Theatre Company is presenting the legendary musical “42nd Street,” running through Septl 23 at the brand new Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center.
The crown jewel of the City Springs development is the beautiful 1070-seat Byers Theatre. The background of how this performance venue came to be is a story by itself, and you may research it. I’ll just mention that the company’s Executive/Artistic Director is Brandt Blocker (who also directs “42nd Street”), the Associate Artistic Director is the Tony-winning Shuler Hensley (who plays a lead in the show), and the Managing Director is Natalie Barrow. Hats off to these three and to all who have given Atlanta an incredible new theatre.
In 1933, when America was in the depths of the Great Depression, Hollywood produced a miraculous movie musical called “”42nd Street.” I say “miraculous” because putting songs like “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” and “Young and Healthy” in a film to be shown to a downtrodden country with mass poverty and bread lines sounded crazy to many. But “42nd Street’s” creators (Michael Stewart, Mark Bramble, book; Harry Warren, music; Al Dubin, lyrics) thought otherwise. So did the legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley. They were right; America loved it. And a showbiz backstage story for the ages was born.
In 1980 Broadway produced a spectacular revival of the show that ran for years. Even though another backstage musical called “A Chorus Line” was packing them in, New York audiences found room in their hearts and pocketbooks for the old chestnut.
Let’s face it: The storyline of “42nd Street” trods some well-worn paths. A young girl named Peggy Sawyer (Leigh Ellen Jones) with stars in her eyes comes to the big city to make it in show business. A show called “Pretty Lady” is about to go into rehearsal. She’s too late. But the young lead named Billy Lawlor (Benjamin Taylor Davis) likes her and gets her a chance. The formidable leading lady, Dorothy Brock (Deborah Bowman) views any new girl as a potential threat. But somehow the show’s director, Julian Marsh (Shuler Hensley), desperate for a hit, smells talent—big time. He’s right.
The show’s opening is breathtaking—a big stage full of people tap dancing their hearts out—and they are good! The outstanding choreography is by Cindy Mora Reiser. The music director is Judy Cole. It occurs to me that almost everything about “42nd Street” is big: the very fine cast (over 30), the live pit orchestra (conducted by Brandt Blocker), and most of all the talent and joie de vivre of actor/singer/dancers. One gets the feeling that everyone has a sense of occasion about this inaugural show, and everyone is thrilled to be here. That feeling spills over to the audience, sitting in the big, beautiful theatre.
I’m not going to reveal the show’s creaky plot, but there is backstage intrigue aplenty, with romance, large egos, opening night catastrophes which turn to triumphs, and friendships made and broken. The performers are stellar, starting with Leigh Ellen Jones as Peggy, the original small-town-girl-makes-good. Ms. Jones is so good she’s scary: dancing, singing, acting. It’s a joy to discover her.
Shuler Hensley’s Julian anchors the show, and when he finally gets to use his famous singing voice in “Lullaby of Broadway” there are audible sighs of pleasure in the audience. Those great ladies of the stage, Deborah Bowman and Marcie Millard, are in fine form—and can they sing! I cannot mention everyone in this very large cast, but here are some standouts: Benjamin Taylor Davis, Google Uterhardt, Steve Hornibrook, Jody Woodruff, Michael Persson, Lauren Brooke Tatum, Kiley Washington, Summer Balkwill, and many others.
Betty Johnson and Amanda Edgerton West are the costume coordinators, and they are lovely.
I notice that City Springs is doing “South Pacific” and “Billy Elliot” this season; I eagerly await them. They are more dramatically compelling than “42nd Street,” although everyone has his/her favorites.
I’m not sure why, but “42nd Street” is only running two weeks; it could be that shows of this size and scope are very expensive. Be that as it may, this show is big, beautiful, and splashy and will show you a really good time.
For tickets and information, visit cityspringstheatre.com.