Old-timey musical taps its way into critic’s favor

Samantha Rose, as ingénue Peggy Sawyer, leads chorus of tap dancers in “42nd Street.” Photo by Ben Krantz Studio.

“42nd Street” is a throwback, an old-fashioned musical that plastered a perma-grin onto my lips and inserted a warm, nostalgic feeling in my gut.

Your experience is apt to be analogous — unless you’re seeking an amusement stuffed with rap, hip-hop and rock.

The original creators of “42nd Street” clearly never came across a plot or character cliché they didn’t like — or a tap-dance routine that didn’t tickle their rear-view mirror fancy.

But that doesn’t matter one iota: I thoroughly enjoyed all two cornball-filled hours of the Bay Area Musicals’ production at San Francisco’s Alcazar Theatre.

Especially the nine disparately shaped female tappers and their four male counterparts, rehearsed so meticulously by director Daren A.C. Carollo and Matthew McCoy, the company’s artistic director and the show’s choreographer, that they come off as a drill team-like hoofing-and-singing chorus so synched they seem to have but one voice and a singular, thunderous metal tap on their shoes.

Especially the colorful, 1930s-appropriate, ever-changing costumes designed by Brooke Jennings.

Especially the mellifluously voiced, ever-smiling, ever-wide-eyed Samantha Rose in the role of bumpkin Peggy Sawyer, ingénue dancer who leaves her Allentown, Pennsylvania, hometown dreaming of a Broadway job and turns the leading lady’s broken ankle into her own big break.

Will Peggy “go out there a youngster but…come back a star”?


Spoiler alert aside, I’ll give you a second and a half to guess right.

Peggy must learn 25 pages of dialogue, six songs and ten dance routines in 36 hours. Could I retain my suspension of disbelief?

Heck no, but so what, I say — this Great Depression era fable is fun to watch and hear anyway.

Particularly Harry Warren’s melodies and Al Dubin’s lyrics on the penultimate First Act production number, “We’re in the Money” (sung after a chorine finds a dime), the lilting “Lullaby of Broadway” and the plaintive “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

Standards all.

Also fun to watch and hear are supporting actors DC Scarpelli as ultra-demanding play-within-a-play director Julian Marsh and Laurie Strawn as Dorothy Brock, funny, snarky, over-the-hill star who ends up, as expected, having a mushy heart of gold.

The musical’s comedic moments worked for me despite being infrequent, and I found it breathtaking to hear one note held for what seemed forever without the actor/singer taking a breath.

The 21-member non-Equity cast and eight-member adequate onstage band make the whole thing pleasant — even though “42nd Street” contains a handful of unfamiliar songs that clearly deserve their obscurity.

The show, a jukebox musical of sorts based on a 1933 film adaptation of a novel from the year before, kicks off BAM’s third season of life (after having won four Tonys, including best revival in 2001 and the 1981 best musical award).

I find it fascinating that, at a time when Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Charlie Rose, Al Franken and God knows how many other headliners are being accused of sexual improprieties, more than one line deals with situations that seem to put women in one-down positions.

Including a “Lullaby of Broadway” lyric that leers at “sexy ladies from the Eighties who are indiscreet.”

And that doesn’t count the presence of a sugar daddy, a bevy of scantily clad chorines and a wannabe who swoons following her first-ever lip-lock.

None of that made any impact on the 7-year-old boy sitting next to me. He appeared to like the dancing and the music, fidgeting only now and then.

And in a long intermission line to the all-gender theater bathroom, I chatted briefly with a twentysomething young man who noted that both he and his 92-year-old grandmother — neither of whom had looked for any rap, hip-hop or rock — were reveling in the production.

All of which, I guess, could prove the musical may be a show for the ages.

“42nd St.” will play at the Alcazar Theater, 650 Geary St., San Francisco, through Dec. 10. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $35 to $65. Information: 415-340-2207 or www.bamsf.org.

Contact Woody Weingarten at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →