Photo courtesy Bloomington Civic Theatre
The hoofers in the backstage musical 42nd Street are spectacular as they tap dance away the fear of the Depression in a Broadway-musical-in-training. I could watch the company dance all night long. Sadly, the script calls for the music to stop periodically and for the acting to begin.
That's when it gets troublesome.
The characters are so paper thin that the merest breeze would rip them open, revealing that there's nothing beneath. The musical, a 1980 creation based on the 1933 movie musical, takes us on the journey of Pretty Lady from rehearsals to opening night, while a young chorus girl becomes an unexpected star.
There is plenty of trouble along the way, mainly involving the big star who, of course, doesn't get along at all with the back-of-the-line chorus girl Peggy. An injury on the opening night of tryouts threatens to scuttle the whole operation, leaving everyone to head for the breadline, until plucky Peggy is willing to step up and save them all (after 36 hours of intense work; union rules must have been different back then).
If you are looking at a portrait of the pain and anxiety of a big-time show, you would be best to take in A Chorus Line. In the case of 42nd Street, the overarching story has become such a cliché that it is hard to take much of the proceedings seriously. Okay, blaming the source material for being cliched is a bit tough, as the "plucky girl drawn from the chorus to be a star" really started with this piece. The lack of knowing in the case of a musical crafted 50 years later, and a production three decades after that, is more puzzling.
Now playing, 42nd Street can be a fine interpretation, but you need a company willing to fully commit to characters. Larissa Gritti as Peggy tries her hardest to make us care. That doesn't happen nearly as much with the rest of the company, who have trouble rising above a mediocre, community-theater level. Practically none of the show's humor lands, while characters that are supposed to be endearing are just annoying.
Thankfully, there are the production numbers, which use the Harry Warren and Al Dubin songs to great effect, building up to a truly epic and engrossing finale. Pity the non-musical parts of the show weren't up to the same standard.
Through September 16
Bloomington Civic Theatre
1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington.
For information, call 952.563.8575 or visit online