42nd Street by Studio 58
Until February 26th
Effervescent fun that consistently charms and delights even in the glitches
It’s the depression and Julian Marsh is putting on a new big Broadway show. Peggy Sawyer has come to the Big Apple with dreams of being in the chorus, she is instantly plunged into a world of raging divas, smooth talking tenors and gaggle of gossiping of chorines. She starts out a nobody and becomes a star!
The 1933 movie was adapted for the stage in 1981, won some awards and went on to become one of the longest running shows on Broadway.
Studio 58 is the professional theatre-training program at Langara College. The three year program puts on two shows a term and only the 4th, 5th and 6th term students get to take the stage. The mandate of the school is the give the students a wide variety of experiences so that when they graduate they are ready for anything the world of professional acting can throw at them.
When Kathryn Shaw the artistic director decided to mount this big musical in their tiny basement space she needed a great team and she found it with director Barbara Tomasic, musical director Chris King, choreographer Julie Tomaino. Working with set designer Pam Johnson, lighting designer Alan Brodie, props designer Carol Macdonald and costume designer Carmen Alatorre the look and feel of the show rivals many of the touring Broadway shows.
The scope is so big that the parking lot is used to house half the show and the theatre gets nicely air conditioned when they have to open the doors to get changed or grab a set piece.
The show is constantly surprising with settings; a sleeping car on a train, the dressing room with mirrors that light up when someone sings, a caboose and a small café with pastel coloured chairs, are just some of the locals in this show within a show.
Because of it’s corny and cute film origins it would be easy to just send it all up with over the top antics but Ms. Tomasic commands grounded and truthful performances from the company.
As with last seasons Angels In America the students are often playing parts that are 20 to 30 years older than them, but here they also have to play parts that demand they sing like Broadway Belters and tap dance like veterans of the form. It is quite remarkable to see how they adapt to playing these roles and although some fall a little short you admire their tenacity and commitment.
The cast is filled with standout performances; Elizabeth Barrett and David Johnston are full of hope and gumption as the ‘writers’, Matthias Falvai has swagger and barks commands as the ‘director’ Julian Marsh and Julien Galipeau blends a genuine joy with careful wisdom as a leading man who has been around.
I also admired Stephanie Wong as the aging diva Dorothy Brock, it would be so easy to play that part simply as a bitch but she also mines the passion for performing and a sexy playfulness with her lover, which makes the character more three dimensional. Abner Dillon is her patron and financier for the show and as played by Logan Fenske he hunched up and is full of good old boy gee shucks charm and advanced years that it was a shock to see him so young in the curtain call at the end.
Krista Skwarok has to play the triple threat and naïve Peggy Sawyer and I can only imagine how intimidating it is to play a character that everyone keeps saying is brilliant at everything. But the young lady deftly manages to not make liars of any of them.
Hearing all these songs so carefully and joyously guided by Chris King and his 6-piece band you are instantly transported to a bygone time. Seeing the choreography Ms. Tomaino, so intricate with clever punctuations become downright sensual in the closing number, it takes your breath away.
The whole show under the direction of Ms. Tomasic is a grand accomplishment of small details and bold life.
Sure there are a few false notes, not all of them are brilliant dancers and some of the students are still finding their footing. Okay I cringed when Ms. Wong made the comic ‘ugh’ face when saying she would be happy to hang out with her patron (I hate that obvious gag because it makes no sense because the other person can see it but since they don’t have scripted lines to can’t address the obvious distain). But these glitches are to be expected.
Studio 58 is an acting school. These students are still developing their craft. This show was a brilliant opportunity for them and jubilant experience for the audience. I was filled with joy and wonder as I watched.
David C. Jones