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LA Theater Review

42nd Street

Director Marsha Moode's rendition of this spirited stage adaptation of Busby Berkeley's classic Depression-era film offers a mostly successful realization of the show's old-fashioned charms. As backstage stories go, this one is among the most memorable, as it introduced the beloved cliché of the fresh-faced ingénue replacing the veteran star. The splendor of the Harry Warren–Al Dubin score (retained from the film) and the staging concepts and choreography of the late Gower Champion made this 1980 Broadway tuner a glowing testament to the durability of genre conventions, while also injecting a fresh vitality. Moode wisely sticks close to the original staging, though her crowd-pleasing production has some rough edges.

This is among the biggest dance musicals ever mounted. Choreographer Gitana Van Buskirk achieves generally satisfactory results, though the ensemble is less polished than expected. The lead performers handle the demanding tap sequences and soft-shoe routines with finesse, but the group numbers sometimes lack the requisite precision. Luckily the two biggest showstoppers, "Lullaby of Broadway" and the title-song ballet, pack a solid punch. Another highlight is the hilarious vaudevillian segment "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," staged with wit and panache. Production budget limitations also hamper the show, as the visual elements so important to this extravaganza are less than stellar here. Some numbers, such as "Shadow Waltz," suffer from the low-tech production values.

Compensation comes in several scintillating performances. Theresa Anne Swain's demure ingénue Peggy Sawyer is a continual delight. Swain skillfully mines the tongue-in-cheek humor in the role, and her singing and dancing efforts are exemplary. Charlotte Carpenter is likewise terrific as the insufferable diva Dorothy Brock. Bill Lewis' hard-driving impresario Julian March is impressively rendered, growing in intensity in the second act. Veteran troupers Ann Peck McBride and George Champion parlay the supporting roles of songwriters Maggie and Bert into delectable scene-stealing turns. Charlie Nash dances and sings well as young star Billy, but his characterization is on the bland side. Ed Krieger has funny moments as Dorothy's jealous sugar daddy Abner. Music director–conductor Eddy Clement and his buoyant orchestra do full justice to the toe-tapping songs.

Presented by Downey Civic Light Opera at the Downey Theatre, 8435 E. Firestone Blvd., Downey. May 29–June 14. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.
(562) 923-1714.

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