Chorus girl makes good

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Tuesday November 21, 2017
Share this Post:

If you're going to do one thing really well, and the show you're doing is "42nd Street," it had better be propulsive tap-dance routines. That is the ace in Bay Area Musicals' hand as it takes on the 1980 Broadway musical that gave director-choreographer Gower Champion the ultimate sendoff. (He died hours before opening night, a fact famously announced by producer David Merrick during a curtain call that had been rapturous up until that moment.) Even operating at a significantly smaller scale in the production at the Alcazar Theatre, choreographer Matthew McCoy still provides a wow factor as his cast furiously pounds the floorboards.

There are other pleasures in this opening production of BAM's third season, although more modest and intermittent, and housed on a basic set of understandable budget limitations but inexcusable unattractiveness. Amid a clutter of instruments and modern equipment, the six-piece band is center stage throughout the production crammed into a space beneath an upstage catwalk with some of the musicians looking hunched over to fit. Since the production is pretty much scenery-free, the setup does no favors to what is performed in front of it.

Even so, the story from the early 1930s that became a quick show-business cliche is offered with enough finesse to carry an audience along as a novice chorus girl is thrust into the lead of a big Broadway musical during the depths of the Depression. "You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star," the director says to the just-off-the-bus Peggy Sawyer before her big entrance less than 24 hours after taking over from an injured Broadway diva. Does she succeed? The answer may be obvious, but we're still able to absorb the characters' suspense in this production.

It's not a high bar to leap, but Samantha Rose projects more stage presence (despite an unfortunate hairstyle) than Ruby Keeler did in the 1933 movie, and also has a stronger voice. Keeler's talents were largely found below the knees, and Rose's terpsichorean skills make believable her sudden rise through the chorus ranks.

As Billy Lawler, the show-within-the show's juvenile lead and Peggy's aspiring suitor, Nikita Burshsteyn is a strong dancer with a big voice, a strained grin, and a countenance that can be hard to distinguish from a couple of other featured players (often costumed in similar brown vests that take away one potential identifying clue). The performer who most readily holds your eye is Laurie Strawn, as the imperious star who can't go on with the show. Her expressions, body language, and delivery are deliciously corrosive. As the director of the biggest show Broadway has seen in years, the youngish DC Scarpelli is in the ballpark with his performance, if not totally connecting with the character's world-weariness.

Director Daren A.C. Carollo's staging is largely about traffic control, but once the cast finds their places, there are moments of effective interplay. Carollo and choreographer McCoy share credit for the scenic design, unevenly lit in Courtney Johnson's lighting design, which lacks the kind of shoestring imagination that could offer its own wink on the musical's extravagant past.

"42nd Street" will run through Dec. 10 at the Alcazar Theatre. Tickets are $35-$65. Call (415) 340-2207 or go to

Cast members of Bay Area Musicals' "42nd Street" go into their dance at the Alcazar Theatre. Photo: Ben Krantz