SALT LAKE CITY — A tap classic of musical theatre, Pioneer Theatre Company energetically brings 42nd Street to the Salt Lake Valley with a bevy of beautiful talent that just starts to explore the depth of character that even the most apparently artificial storyline can warrant. Certainly a toe tapper, not to be missed if you’ve an inkling towards musical theatre classics.
The story follows the underdog story of Peggy Sawyer as she steps of the train from Allentown and into her first Broadway show. Her natural talent and a little luck helps her join the ranks of Chorus girl to Leading Lady.
That’s the basic storyline. Sounds a little weak, I know. It certainly could be, but throw into that the Broadway Director hit hard by the stock market working to get back on top and you start to relate to our current uphill economic battle. Now look at the Fading Starlit just a hair past her prime on the stage with a fear she’s missed her opportunity at real, true love and you might see something else you or someone you know might relate to.
The story is fluffy, but there’s meat there and thankfully director Charles Morey brings a little bit of that out for display amongst the toe-tapping choreography and show-stopping melodies.
Beth Glover’s performance as actress Dorothy Brock, the star just a little past her prime, was emotionally charged. The night’s performance for me was nearly the tragedy of Dorothy Brock. I expected a villain, or at least an unbearable crank, and what I got was a mature, strong, yet fragile woman saying goodbye to her past love—the theatre—and risking it for a new love in Pat Denning. Her rendition of “I Only Have Eyes For You” was solid and visually stunning with the set (George Maxwell) and lights (Dennis Parichy) perfectly framing the scene with Glover alone in her hotel room while a few gents are left singing at the lobby piano and stars lace the background.
Her replacement in the show, Miss Peggy Sawyer (played by Lea Kohl) is a complete and welcome surprise. This tiny brunette is a shocker. She perfectly fits as the unexpected dynamite that will save the show in the end. Her dancing is amazing and the acting was appropriate, but lacks a supporting strength to the ingénue she plays. While other performers seemed to explore a little further past the stock roles written for them, Kohl seemed comfortable with it.
Jeffrey Pew belts out a gorgeous tenor voice as the leading man of the evening. His steps don’t quite match the caliber of his vocals, but it was still a wonderful performance to enjoy.
Dennis Parlato delivers a strong Jillian Marsh with all the experience and insight one would hope represent Broadway directors. His vocals progressively impressed me as the night continued.
Bert Barry in “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” heralds the lanky antics of Tommy Tune, or Danny Kaye. It was a riot to watch his vaudevillian performance. His partner, Erin Denman (playing Annie) was also a joy to watch throughout the night.
Mary Fanning Driggs (playing Maggie Jones) certainly had a voice to please and was perhaps one of the most enjoyable melodies of the evening. I only wish her comedic timing could have translated as well to the dialog as it did the music.
Patti D’Beck’s choreography was contagious. While the first act hardly left an opportunity for the ensemble to plant their feet—and was almost undesirably dizzying—the second act resulted in more cemented musical numbers. Though, this transition through the show does complement the growing control from our leading lady as she gets a hold of that confidence that will save their production. Dizzying or not, the steps made me want to trudge out my taps and timestep along with them.
Pioneer Theatre Company is always a treat. While this production certainly offered a little more depth in the script than I’ve seen elsewhere in the valley, there is still opportunity to explore these characters and strengthen Julian Marsh’s argument that “musical theatre” are two of the most powerful words in the English language.