Broadway comes to Wright State
By Brian P. Sharp
It really felt like Broadway has stormed Wright State University while watching 42nd Street with music by Harry Warren (lyrics by Al Dubin; book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble; based on the novel by Bradford Ropes). As the curtain goes up about three feet, you see and hear all of the tap dancing going on as it’s announced Julian Marsh is going to open a show. You can’t help but smile, and at times sing along, from that moment on.
42nd Street is a bold musical set in the 1930s that speaks to the stuff dreams are made of. It is truly about being in the right place at the right time, talent and love. 42nd Street is a celebration of Broadway and the people that make it special. After the curtain rises, we see the dance director auditioning kids for the chorus of Pretty Lady, the new Julian Marsh show. We soon meet Peggy Sawyer who had missed the audition because she couldn’t get up the nerve. The show takes us on her journey. It is full of familiar songs like, “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “Dames,” “I Know Now,” “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and “42nd Street.” Who doesn’t love watching the underdog succeed?
Julian Marsh has some serious concerns about his cast (mainly Dorothy Brock). However, Brock comes with the “money man,” Abner Dillon, who will back the show financially. The drama quickly unfolds on and off the “stage” and Peggy manages to work her way into the chorus after all. Through some twists, turns and “breaks,” Peggy ends up in the leading role. She has exactly 36 hours to learn 25 pages, six songs and 10 dance numbers. Julian says, by the next evening he’ll have either a live leading lady or a dead chorus girl! Finally, the Broadway curtain opens on Pretty Lady. The show is a hit and Peggy Sawyer is a sudden sensation. But through it all, she hasn’t forgotten she was really just a chorus girl and one of the kids.
Joe Deer directs this amazing production. He says he always prepares himself to say goodbye to the seniors who will make this their last Wright State production.
“This group has been so gratifying because of their versatility and drive,” Deer said.
He also had help from long-time friend and choreographer Rick Conant.
Conant, a veteran of the original Broadway production where he was a swing dancer, has had years of experience working with this show. He toured in Europe for over seven years with 13 different touring companies, working in places like Paris, Russia and in the U.S. at the Goodspeed Opera House.
“These students are quite professional, they really work hard!” said Conant. “This has been a great experience not just to be able to be with my old touring roommate, Joe Deer, but because Wright State has a terrific program with great departments and are working with kids that know their craft.”
Conant insists the difference between working with professionals and students is that professionals are “by the book.” “They do what needs to be done, while students want to learn more and more, and want to really be the best,” he said.
Music direction is by Rick Church and Michael Hickey manages the stage.
Cast members include Jason Collins in the part of Julian Marsh, in one of his strongest performances to date. Powerful performances are also delivered by leading ladies Peggy Sawyer, played by Alyssa Hostetler, and Dorothy Brock, played by Valerie Reaper. Hillary Fingerman in the part of Maggie Jones has you laughing through the show. Other strong performances came from the featured ensemble of Alexandra Sunderhaus in the part of Ann Reiley; Darien Crago playing Phyllis; Sarah Agar in the part of Lorraine and Ian Blanco portraying Andy Lee.
This is an absolute must see.
42nd Street plays at the Festival Playhouse in the Bob and Elaine Stein Auditorium at Wright State University from May 12 through 29. Tickets may be purchased by calling (937) 775-2500 (Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m.).
Reach DCP theatre critic Brian P. Sharp at Theatre@daytoncitypaper.com.