Pedigree. It’s not just a dog food. It’s heritage, tradition and history. It’s the icing on the cherry. It’s the sherry on the Sheri. It’s the ever-so-tenuous thread connecting Bing Crosby to My Chemical Romance. It’s a badge of honor and a goal toward which to strive. And when it comes to theatre, pedigree is the cat’s knees and the bee’s meow all rolled into one.
Few shows can claim the type of pedigree that 42nd Street enjoys. Before Cats, The Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables, 42nd Street owned the Great White Way, lock, stock and barrel. It was the swan song of director Gower Champion, who had already directed such all-time greats as Bye Bye Birdie, Carnival! and Hello Dolly! After its debut in 1980, 42nd Street ran for more than 3,400 performances and earned numerous nominations and awards, including a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1981 and for Best Revival of a Musical 20 years later.
The original Broadway production furthered the career of one Jerry Orbach, who would go on to such memorable roles as the cantankerous father in the film Dirty Dancing and the wily veteran detective on the television show Law & Order (the original one prior to its mitotic subdivision into a seemingly endless string of follow-on versions). In a bit of almost-too-good-to-be-true life-imitating-art kismet, the 1984 London production would see not only its female lead but her understudy unable to perform, opening the door for a then-unknown Catherine Zeta-Jones to step into the spotlight. This fortuitous circumstance is credited by many as the beginning of Zeta-Jones’ stardom.
With so much theatrical magic woven into its very DNA, it takes a truly professional theatre company to make this bird sing. Boulder’s own Broadway institution, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, is more than up to the task.
In fact, BDT’s 42nd Street may be one of its best, most exciting and most entertaining productions in years. Where BDT is usually an A student, this time around there are not enough plusses to follow that A.
In the midst of the Great Depression, struggling Broadway producer Julian Marsh (John Scott Clough) plans to rebuild his fortune with a new, blockbuster show, Pretty Lady. Every chorus girl, stage manager, actor, writer and musician is relying on Marsh to succeed so that they can all avoid the bread lines.
Pretty Lady is to star aging diva Dorothy Brock (Ali Dunfee), who brings along with her the lion’s share of the show’s funding courtesy of her rich admirer, Abner Dillon (Brian Norber). But when Ms. Brock finds herself unable to perform, the unknown diamond in the rough Peggy Sawyer (Katie Ulrich) gets her shot at the big time.
42nd Street offers not only numerous astounding tap dancing numbers, some truly hilarious exchanges (mostly courtesy of Wayne Kennedy and Brian Norber) and a tried-and-true tale of a starry-eyed dreamer catching her big break; it also features a handful of the most recognizable show tunes in Broadway’s history. Try not to tap your toes when Joanie Brousseau and Tracy Warren kick off “We’re in the Money.” If you have any love of old Broadway at all, the eponymous song, “42nd Street,” will give you chills. And the rolling, building “Lullaby of Broadway” will likely make you either cheer or tear.
Director Michael J. Duran has done it again with 42nd Street. Aided by Amy Campion’s scenic design, opulent costuming by Linda Morken, tight musical direction by Neal Dunfee and even tighter choreography thanks to Tracy Warren, Duran and crew have outdone themselves this time around. Add to the behind-the-scenes work the excellent performances all around, highlighted by Clough’s harsh yet human director, Ulrich’s innocent aspirer and Dunfee’s jaded doyen, and you’ve got a theatre treat that can’t be beat.
The winter doldrums are undeniably here, and I can’t think of a better way to keep them at bay than a few hours with 42nd Street.
42nd Street plays through Feb. 16 at Boulder's Dinner Theatre, 5501 Arapahoe Ave. Tickets start at $35. Call 303-449-6000 or visit www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com.