Tapping its way down the stage, “42nd Street” brought classic Broadway flair to the IU Auditorium last night, with big horns, chorus girls, love affairs and giant dance numbers.
“We’re really excited for the dancing because we’ve taken ballroom dancing together,” said audience member Carole Graham, who experienced her first show at the IU Auditorium last night with her husband. “The music, too. We love musicals.”
Initially teasing the audience with only their toes visibly tapping just beneath the red velvet curtain, the cast soon greeted them with smiles, 1930s hairdos and vests, and big movement. Jumping in to the scene of an audition for 1933’s latest show “Pretty Lady,” the final jazz-hand pose left the audience cheering.
When small town sweetheart Peggy Sawyer, played by Caitlin Ehlinger, steps off the bus from Allentown, Pennsylvania, the newcomer has no idea what to expect from the whirlwind of New York City showbiz and drama. Hoping to snag a spot in famous Broadway director Julian Marsh’s show, Peggy has a plan to become a star, which is soon hindered by bad news.
According to Billy, a flirtatious lead in the new production, she has already missed her chance, but regardless he continues to try and romance her while the two perform a duet “Young and Healthy” in the midst of auditions.
Then, Dorothy Brock, prima donna and leading lady of the show, enters. Though Dorothy’s diva attitude and high demands leave Julian less than ecstatic about the possibility of casting her, the financial endorsement of her wealthy boyfriend, Abner Dillon, saves her dream of becoming a star.
Meanwhile, a slightly defeated and embarrassed Peggy is snatched up by big personality and show writer Maggie and a handful of the chorus girls outside of auditions. The crew of ladies offer some comic relief throughout the show, chiming in lines like, “He’s a tenor, but he’s got bass ideas.”
They see she’s got talent, and it doesn’t take long for her new posse to take her under their wing. Peggy’s impromptu dance routine has her new friends proclaiming her a “looker” who can “chirp like a bird” and is “pretty hot stuff in the steps department.” After director Julian sees it too, Peggy lands herself a spot in the production.
As “Pretty Lady” starts to come together, Julian is one step ahead of the rest and detects something fishy going on with Dorothy. Aware she is seeing her ex-beau, Julian takes matters into his own hands, devising a plan to break them up and avoid Abner from cutting funds.
The cast is off to Philadelphia to debut their production and tensions run high as Dorothy becomes annoyed with young Peggy. The latter half of act one pulled out several bells and whistles to conclude. Beginning with a stage full of colorful gowns in “Dames,” the big production numbers kept coming.
Taking a brief interlude from the showiness for a soft, personal moment, Dorothy sings “I Only Have Eyes for You.” The song ended in an up-tempo version by Billy and was followed by “We’re in the Money.” After a sea of gold sequins and the excitement of back-and-forth vocal and dance styles, Julian cues the audience that it’s intermission.
“It’s amazing that it’s live performance and they’re so perfect together,” IU graduate student Mayuri Venkatesh said. “There are 25 people on stage, and they’re all to point. I think that was the most impressive thing about it. And I’m sure many of the dancers are repeating, so it’s just amazing how they can keep up their performance through and through.”
Although by the end of act one Julian has dodged every bullet Dorothy managed to shoot at him, the worst case scenario occurs: Dorothy breaks her ankle and is unable to perform. To make matters worse, Julian fires Peggy on the spot, who was perhaps his last shot at saving the show.
As the cast regroups for act two, Julian, with a little suggestion from the always-chatty chorus girls, reconsiders his decision and runs after Peggy. Hopeful that she’ll fill in for Dorothy, Julian insists until she eventually agrees. Everyone pulling together, even Dorothy, it seems “Pretty Lady” may finally make its debut after all.
“I am most excited for the audience to see the energy of the ensemble’s dancing,” performer Kaitlin Lawrence, who plays Dorothy Brock said. “It is absolutely infectious. It’s sort of like this visceral feeling when you see everyone tapping together. It’s quite spectacular, and the costumes are absolutely breath-taking.”
Aside from the spectacular synchronicity of the dancers and compelling energy, Lawrence said she is most excited for what the audience will leave with after the show tunes are said and done.
“I love this show because it’s about dreams coming true,” she said. “It’s a feel-good musical. People leave here humming the songs because they’re beautiful songs, like ‘I Only Have Eyes For You,’ ‘We’re in the Money,’ ‘42nd Street.’ It’s all music that you know. I love the way it makes people feel and the way it inspires people to follow their dreams.”