VISTA, California --Wanna see some great homegrown (about 27 or so) local talent? All on one stage? Hoofing their little legs and toes off? No problem. Head to The Moonlight Stage Productions here and get ready for some spectacular dancing, singing and overall fine theatre thanks to, well, 42nd Street composers Harry Warren (music), Al Dubin (lyrics), Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble (book) and current director Jon Engstrom (a cast member from the original Broadway show and dance captain to choreographer Gower Champion) to name a few.
I remember as a girl in 1951 seeing the movie Lullaby of Broadway, which is one of the great musical numbers from 42nd Street, starring Doris Day. But that’s just the end result of a long history before the fact. The Broadway musical comedy 42nd Street based on the 1932 novel by Bradford Ropes and the 1933 screenplay by James Seymour and Rian James opened at The Winter Gardens Theatre on August 25 1980. Remember Jerry Orbach of Law and Order? He played Julian Marsh the director of a new soon to be produced musical ‘Pretty Lady.' The story of 42nd Street traces the trials, tribulations and back stage/ behind the scenes wrangling of mounting a musical extravaganza during heights of the Great Depression.
This is the story about a small town gal, Peggy Sawyer (Cassie Silva) from Allentown Pa. who comes to New York to audition for the newest Broadway show, Pretty Lady only to be told auditions are closed. Choreographer Andy Lee (Nick Lorenzini) tells her to “Beat it” especially since he finds out that one of then young leads, Billy Loller (Tenor Jeffrey Scott Parsons) is trying to charm her to be his gal. Complicating matters, the star Dorothy Brock (Amy Ashworth Beidel) along with her sugar Daddy Abner Dillon (Ralph P. Johnson) show up and threaten that if Dorothy doesn’t get the lead in the show, Abner doesn’t come through with the moola to back it. In her haste to leave, Peggy forgets her purse and bumps smack into Julian Marsh (David Kirk Grant) director of the show Pretty Lady.
As you might have guessed, the story goes back throughout the two busy acts like a push me pull you. Will Peggy Sawyer have a chance to make it in the chorus line? Will Dorothy Brock sing with or without auditioning first? Will Abner come through with or without Dorothy? Will Julian have Dorothy’s par amour Pat Denning (Christopher Whipple) knocked off by some petty thugs he’s hired? Will Peggy replace Dorothy after Dorothy breaks her ankle in a dance sequence mishap? Will the show even open? And the beat goes on.
Needless to say, the show, both on Broadway and in Vista, was and is a great success. The line up of talent seems endless starting with the effervescent Cassie Silva as Peggy Sawyer. She’s so bouncy and full of both life and talent that if Julian Marsh didn’t take this ingénue and make her a leading lady, he needed a quick dose of reality juice. Of course we know that in many cases life does imitate art and little innocent and naïve young women do become overnight successes. “You’re going out there as a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star," barks a convincing David Kirk Gant as Marsh. His rendition of “Lullaby of Broadway” was perfect.
Both Silva and Biedel can rock out a tune especially Biedel’s ‘Shadow Waltz’ (Christina Munich does wonders with the shadow lighting in this piece). Biedel a beautiful performer has the least convincing part to pull off as the somewhat over the hill leading lady. Perhaps if she weren’t so beautiful it might have been more convincing. Both Silva and Biedel are great in their “About A Quarter To Nine” duet.
Go to the top of right column
Jeffrey Scott Parsons, who plays Billy Lawlor, the wannabe boyfriend to Peggy looks about seventeen, but don’t be deceived by his looks. He’s been in Les Miz, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story and Fiddler, to name a few. His talent runs deep: good looks, sings, dances and acts and all done well. Ralph Johnson is the perfect “Sugar Daddy” type, all wrapped up in his own romance to see the trees through the forest. Deidre Haren was a little too brash as Anytime Annie (she even looked like Little Orphan in that oversized red wig) the spokesperson for the chorus girls and the one who brought Peggy back in for another try with Julian.
More kudos must be given to Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd and Carlotta Malone and Costume Coordinators for the dazzling looking costumes, with brilliant and matching colors, and finally Jon Engstrom for keeping a tight reign on all those hoofers (can’t brag enough about those kids). I can never deny a good musical with as much tap dancing as 42nd Street. I always wait anxiously for the troop to carry out those oversized dime looking coins used as platforms and then dancing their little feet off to “We’re In The Money”. Dubin (was a Jewish American Swiss born), along with Warren didn’t miss a beat on the number of tunes they cranked out for this show, “You’re Getting To Be Habit With Me," “I Know Now," “We’re In The Money," Lullaby Of Broadway," “Shuffle Off To Buffalo," “42nd Street” and “About A Quarter To Nine” all production numbers worthy of the fine care given them by the entire company and technical crew.
The 1980 Broadway Musical won the Tony for best Musical and in 2001 also won a Tony for Best Revival. Despite all the success of the opening night glitter in New York the untimely death of choreographer Gower Champion stunned opening night audiences as well as the rest of the theatre community. He had died of cancer just hours before the opening night curtain went up. In his review at the time (and reprinted in Steven Suskin's More Opening Nightws on Broadway), Frank Rich of the Times said, “If anyone wonders why Gower Champion’s death is a bitter loss for the American Theatre, I suggest that he head immediately to the Winter Garden, where 42nd Street opened last night. This brilliant showman’s final musical is, if nothing else, a perfect moment to his glorious career.”
No question Moonlight’s producing artistic director Kathy Brombacher made the right decision by choosing 42nd Street as the opening show for its 29th summer season for several reasons not the least of which is to show off Moonlights new and updated, state of the art facility. It’s sporting a whole new look including updated lighting and all handicapped access. While the seating remains the same the new building has a 60 foot fly loft with “electronic rigging system for scenery and equipment, backstage restrooms (yea for the cast) and dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, scenery assembly/work shop, costumes, sunken orchestra pit (conductor Kenneth Gammie and musical director Elan McMahon work the orchestra), sound, lighting and video equipment packages”.
According to Brombacher (with whom I chatted before the show), “they are all grateful for the bond issue that was passed two years ago by the City of Vista”. “In today’s economy, it never could have happened." Too bad the powers that be in San Diego never had the foresight to do the same with the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park.
If you are looking for a complete evening of sheer entertainment, a tried and true Broadway Musical with the look and feel of being on Broadway but instead being snuggled in the beautiful Vista Hills, Moonlight is your answer.
42nd Street continues through Aug. 1st. For more information check out www.moonlightstage.com