Had the unions and producers involved all succumbed to the twin demons of profiteering and intractability, the hinterlands would have missed the chance to enjoy a splendidly affectionate Broadway revival of an iconic American show with enough of an overhaul to make it feel fresh and vital, yet without any unnecessary post-modern pomposity. But although the Dodgers must have been sorely tempted to send this one out either with a diminished company, or with teenybopper hoofers accompanied by non-union veterans of provincial light operas, they did not.
“42nd Street” was done right for the road, thank God, and that’s good for the biz. Likely to snag strong world of mouth, this top-drawer tour will bring a lot of pleasure to older auds with an eye for traditional musical comedy. And it should be an object lesson that the fights that marred “The Music Man” (another fine revival that the road got in stinted, controversial form) can and must be avoided. After all, familiar titles like these only make sense on tour if people are getting stellar production vales for their seventy bucks a pop.
In nearly 15 years of reviewing the road, I don’t remember typing in as many company names as appear above — for a first national company, at least. “42nd Street” comes complete with around 50 Equity contracts, give or take a stage manager or two. Sure, many of the green kids in the line are making their first-national debut, if not their professional debut. But that’s entirely in keeping with the spirit of this show. And choreographer Randy Skinner — who’s long treated the road with plenty of respect — has ’em hoofin’ their little hearts out.
With a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, some additional material and enough smiling visages to fill the stage of even a gilded barn like Atlanta’s Fox, the tour of “42nd Street” looks and feels like a huge production, even though its design is sufficiently heavy on wings and drops that it probably moves around with reasonable ease. Given its rarity in the road world of the 1990s, the impact of the cast size cannot be overestimated. This is a show about the ensemble, and it’s the ensemble that makes the night here.
The best principal performance in this company comes from the terrific Blair Ross, whose deliciously throaty vocals make numbers like “About a Quarter to Nine” a real pleasure. Patrick Ryan Sullivan chews a little scenery in places as Julian Marsh, but he’s a fine singer with oodles of energy. Catherine Wreford’s perfectly valid take on Peggy Sawyer is to play her as a kind of Allentown gold-digger, a talented dynamo who knows what she wants and never lets up in making it happen. This approach — coupled with all Sullivan’s testosterone — gives this company a great deal of drive. One wants, though, to see a little more vulnerability in Sawyer early on — and thus our emotional investment in her eventual success would be greatly be enhanced.
Still, there are minor quibbles that will likely dissipate as the company stops trying too hard. At the end of its first week in Atlanta, this retro show looked slick, smooth and (most important of all) fresh and passionate. It got the rapturous response it deserved.