Theatre Under The Stars, Malkin Bowl (Stanley Park), until August 18th
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Penny Warwick
Theatre Under The Stars choice of musicals this year is rather interesting. Playing alongside the fairytale musical Cinderella is the classic American Musical 42nd Street. Set in the 1930s it tells the rags to riches story of a small town girl with big ol’ dreams. However, with some very questionable lines and plot points, you will want to skim the surface if you’re not going to feel the irk in your socio-political brain. Quite frankly, it can be done – if you try to forget that the musical being produced is called ‘Pretty Lady’, and the weird power/age dynamic going on between a hungry producer and a doe-eyed newcomer, but really the glaring number ‘Dames’ which goes on far to long, is a car crash you cannot avoid and avidly cringe-worthy from start to finish.
What do you go for, go see a show for? Tell the truth you go to see those beautiful dames. You spend your dough for bouquets that grow for all those cute and cunning, young and beautiful dames. Oh! Dames are temporary flames to you. Dames, you don't recall their names, do you? But their caresses and home addresses linger in your mem'ry… balk.
There was an opportunity here for director Robert McQueen to give any kind of nod to the fact it is bawdy at best and absolutely disrespectful at worst, alas, it is played as written. A song about women being objects for your pleasure and enjoyment only; temporary, disposable and ultimately forgettable. Luckily there are some amazing performances here from women that remind you that sometimes, just sometimes, women are more than that.
A favourite moment came early on with the ‘girls lunch’ when we are first introduced to bright-eyed starlet Peggy Sawyer (Paige Fraser), who is taken under the wing of writer Maggie (Lucy McNulty) and some other chorus girls. This is a very sweet scene which sees the women dancing to and from their engagement, all the time brightly – and realistically – chatting away in a hubbub as they do. In fact, every scene with a hubbub was enjoyable. It is a huge cast and McQueen has done an incredible job in the group scenes of mastering the clean chaos we see unfold in tiny vignettes and individual moments. The ensemble is strong, especially in the exceptional choreo of Shelley Stewart Hunt. Quite honestly, I have never seen crosses so beautifully executed. It is a shame the floor didn’t allow for *more* of the tap acoustics to be picked up, but regardless there is rarely a foot out of place in the entire show. Christopher King’s solid musical direction allows for some stunning final notes and harmonies. The costuming (Christina Sinosich) is lovely. The set (Brian Ball) is well designed and moments are highlighted with appropriate lighting from Gerald King. I mean, it’s clean. It’s all good. I enjoyed it.
Unfortunately, and surprisingly for being open for a week already, there were a number of dropped mics. But that’s really the only technical complaint I can find on the performance side. It’s just a shame the book itself is kind of beige and lifeless, and dated, so dated.
Standouts include the formidable Andrew Cownden (Julian Marsh) – Vancouver, I don’t really know how we keep him here in this limited theatre scene but he’s here and you should try to see him in whatever you can, whenever you can. Lucy McNulty is bright and bubbly as Maggie Jones. I loved seeing Christopher King step between performing and MD-ing. Janet Gigliotti has beautiful vocals and delivers a measured performance as ageing star Dorothy Brock. Blake Sartin is quintessentially fitting as the romantic lead. Paige Fraser in the lead does a decent job, although occasionally her brassy arrogance oversteps her likeability.
The ensemble scenes and huge musical numbers are what sells 42nd Street, and for that alone I would recommend checking it out. Creative, production and cast included, it is probably the most professional production I have seen at TUTS.
By Poppy Wainwright
It’s 1930 and the atmosphere is tense: Americans are pennies away from ending up on the bread line, fascism is on the rise in Europe, and theatre director Julian Marsh is desperate for a hit Broadway musical. He’s pinning his latest hopes on Pretty Lady, and has just secured his chorus after a round of quick-stepping auditions. His doubts about a leading lady who has seemed to buy her way to the top have been assuaged, and a last minute addition has rounded out the cast. Everything seems to be on track for a smooth opening…
42nd Street, this summer’s Theatre Under the Stars’ pairing with Cinderella is a high-kicking romp through the glitz, glamour, and drama of backstage Broadway. It’s a fun—if somewhat predictable—story of high hopes, dashed dreams, and unlikely love.
I must commend the ensemble on their very solid work. The intricate choreography by Shelley Stewart Hunt gave these actors a challenge, and they rose to it. For the most part their movement was unified, energetic, and seemingly effortless. Same goes for most of their vocal work: I was impressed by the strength of the chorus work, for which Musical Director (and cast member) Christopher King should be congratulated.
Andrew Cownden (Julian Marsh) was the undoubted standout in this cast. Cownden, with his gruff yet elegant physicalization and Jimmy Stewart timbre, commanded the stage, which is saying something considering there was often a glitzy chorus line as his competition. Janet Gigliotti, too, gives an effortless and enjoyable portrayal of Dorothy Brock, the would-be leading lady. Her vocals were consistently strong; “I Know Now,” in particular, was entrancing. These two seasoned performers certainly bring the show up to a different level of quality. Lucy McNulty should also be mentioned for her performance as Maggie, the plucky writer and producer of Pretty Lady. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her onstage.
One particular song in the show I found to be problematic was “Dames,” an ode to the “cute and cunning” women in Broadway musicals. With lyrics such as “Those gorgeous dames are temporary flames to you,” and “Dames, you don’t recall their names, do you?” this number felt out-of-touch at best and extremely offensive at worst. Preferably this number should’ve been cut, but since that wasn’t the case, I was really hoping the creative team would’ve chosen to add a quippy line after the number as a wink-wink to the audience, if only to show that they understood the inappropriateness of the song’s content. Alas, no such line was added. It was uncomfortable, and unfortunately left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the performance.
42nd Street is a fun, often funny trip into 1930’s Broadway and what makes a show go. It has its imperfections and certainly isn’t going to make you ponder life’s big questions, but for the most part it’s an enjoyable night out at the theatre in the fresh air of Stanley Park. Can’t complain too much about that.