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THEATER REVIEW

`42nd Street's' showbiz saga taps emotions

April 26, 2006|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

The sound of one hand clapping may be the quintessential Zen Buddhist koan, but the thundering vibrations of 50 tapping feet at the opening of a musical can signal only one thing: "42nd Street."

The storied musical, which opened Saturday at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, is back with a vengeance. Part of the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities' 15th anniversary celebration, this national touring production is, happily, none the worse for wear.

Indeed, the 2001 Tony Award winner for best musical revival shines as brightly as the lights of the fabled boulevard. And for those who may not know the plot (the show has been mounted in the Southland with the regularity of a Swiss watch), it's a behind-the-scenes gander at the making of a Depression-era Big White Way revue. That the Harry Warren-Al Dubin songs are familiar, fabulous and still fresh, is also part of the fun, with Valerie Gardner Rives directing a well-oiled cast, their spot-on hoofing prowess once again overseen by Randy Skinner, an associate choreographer on the original 1980 Broadway production. It helps too that Douglas W. Schmidt's sets continue to gleam like a new penny, and Roger Kirk's sartorial confections are anything but bread line.

Delivering the goods in spades is Melody Davi, who charms in a Louise Brooks-type wig as Peggy Sawyer, the Allentown, Pa., lass who takes over at the eleventh hour for leading lady Dorothy Brock, she of the broken ankle. Natalie Buster, a belter with a slight resemblance to drag queen Charles Busch, does a swell job with her throaty interpretations, including "I Only Have Eyes for You."

Also pitch perfect is David Grant as world-weary producer Julian Marsh. Dapper in pinstripes and uttering the famous showbiz aphorism, "You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star," his "42nd Street" reprise at the show's end brings it all home.

So too do supporting players. Finessing their numbers with spunk are the zaftig Maureen Veronica Illmensee and a Truman Capote-like Tom Frye as writers Jones and Barry, while Jarran V. Muse's Billy Lawlor has a grand time chewing vocal scenery and tapping up a storm.

Driving the musical engine is keyboardist David Jenkins, who conducts a rousing 10-piece band from the pit. With such tunes as "We're in the Money," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and "Lullaby of Broadway," it's no wonder that the chorines and "kids in the line" break into song and shuffle-ball-changes at the drop of a sequined top hat.

The soul -- and soles -- of the show, they make it easy to fall in love with this slice of Americana all over again.

*

'42nd Street'

Where: Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: May 7

Price: $37.50 to $52.50

Contact: (310) 372-4477

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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