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THEATER REVIEW : Dancin' Feet Don't Fail '42nd St.'

July 29, 1994|NANCY CHURNIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HUNTINGTON BEACH — "42nd Street," the 1981 Broadway play based on the 1933 movie, is about as substantial as cotton-candy--a sentimental feel-gooder with predictable romances, lots of tap-dancing and hummable tunes.

It's a story about the making of a musical, and particularly about a down-on-his-luck producer who loses his leading lady at the last moment and gives a chorus girl a chance to make good.

Part of what established its place in Broadway lore was what was really going on behind the scenes of this show, which is, of course, a show about the world behind the scenes.

Legendary producer David Merrick presented it on Broadway when he, like the producer in the story, desperately needed a hit. And it was the last play directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, who died the day the show opened (the cast wasn't told until they took their bows).

The Golden West College production that runs through Aug. 7 doesn't add anything fresh to the show, but it does a likable job. There's nothing much to chew on, but there's lots of fancy footwork and strong singing of some dandy ditties by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, particularly "Lullaby of Broadway" and "About a Quarter to Nine."

Especially good is Howard Mango, whose fine timing and strong voice drive the musical as the dour, sardonic producer Julian Marsh. Short on money, Marsh has to hire Dorothy Brock (Peggy Magee), a slightly over-the-hill star who has a sugar daddy to finance the play.

When Brock breaks her leg, Mango will have to close the show or give a talented young chorus girl, Peggy Sawyer (Julie Ertl), a chance to take over as the star.

*

Magee doesn't project the look of a star, but her strong voice and sure comic delivery satisfy nicely. Ertl, all perky charm, is the ultimate ingenue as the little girl from Allentown who wants to make good in the big city.

Her fast-tapping feet even convince us that there is something special about Peggy. Unfortunately, she never makes the needed leap to star status when she should blow us away in the final scene.

In supporting roles, Lili Lewis belts it out pretty well as Maggie, the show's co-writer and co-performer featured in the funny "Shuffle Off to Buffalo."

Simon Cote flashes a winning smile as Billy Lawlor, the male star smitten with Peggy, and does well in his opening number, "Young and Healthy." But the romance gets lost in Brandee Williams' busy direction.

Directors tend to focus on Julian Marsh's story, probably because they identify with him. And his tale does pump the heart of the play. But that shouldn't really hit home until the end. One should believe at least until the penultimate scene that this story is all about Peggy. And that's where Williams fails.

Otherwise, her direction and choreography suit the show fine, pulling strong ensemble work out of the large cast, offering up nicely polished song-and-dance numbers as well as witty interchanges.

*

Nick DeGregorio's spirited musical direction also brings out the best in a comically varied score (one of the jokes is that songs can be thrown into the musical-within-a-musical that have absolutely nothing to do with anything).

Charles Davis' imaginative sets and lighting may not convince us that we are on Broadway, but they sport lots of lovely touches such as floral-decked swings and giant coins that rise from the floor.

Susan Thomas Babb's colorful costumes are similarly pleasing, though one wishes for something more dramatic for Peggy to wear in the "42nd Street" number.

For if only that final "42nd Street" number were stronger, one wouldn't wonder afterward whether Julian Marsh has a hit on his hands. And if that number was stronger, it would go a long way to giving Golden West College a hit as well.

* "42nd Street," Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 7. $12, with $1 discount for ASB/GWC and Gold Key cardholders and children under 12. (714) 895-8378. Running time: 2 hours, 18 minutes.

Peggy Magee: Dorothy Brock Julie Ertl: Peggy Sawyer Lili Lewis: Maggie Jones Howard Mango: Julian Marsh Doug Sinclair: Bert Barry Simon Cote: Billy Lawlor Michelle Weingarden: Andy Lee Steve Silva: Pat Denning Rollo Sternaman: Abner Dillon Golden West College Fine Arts Division. Music by Harry Warren. Lyrics by Al Dubin. Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Originally directed and choreographed by Gower Champion. Directed and choreographed by Brandee Williams. Musical direction: Nick DeGregorio. Lights and sets: Charles Davis. Costumes: Susan Thomas Babb. Sound: Scott Steidinger. Stage manager: Holly Ahlborn.

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