Entertainment, Lifestyle

’42nd Street’ a happy feat at Music Theatre

Jessica Wockenfuss (Peggy Sawyer) and Jacob ben Widmar (Billy Lawler) in “42nd Street” at North Shore Music Theatre. (Justin Harris)

BEVERLY — The production of “42nd Street” at North Shore Music Theatre through Sunday is one of the finest two hours of entertainment I’ve seen at the venerable Beverly venue in many a moon.

The dancing is spectacular, the costumes are breathtaking and the performances are first-rate. Often when dancers are required to sing and singers are required to dance, the results are less than ideal. No such problem here.

This presentation of the classic Broadway musical, which, like “A Chorus Line” before it, is partly a glorious love letter to the “kids” who pursue their dream of performing and becoming a star. Staging this on North Shore’s theater-in-the-round must’ve created some unique challenges for the director, choreographer and dance captain. It all comes off without a hitch, remarkable considering at times some two dozen cast members are tap-dancing their hearts out on stage.

It’s hard to fathom that the cast performs this demanding show twice some days.

“42nd Street,” based on the 1933 Busby Berkeley movie musical, follows fresh-faced dreamer Peggy Sawyer (Jessica Wockenfuss), a young dancer/actress from Allentown, Pa., who comes to audition for the new Julian Marsh (Burke Moses) musical “Pretty Lady” that’s to open on Broadway during the Great Depression. When the show’s uncooperative leading lady, Dorothy Brock (Tari Kelly), breaks her ankle on opening night young Peggy steps into the role and wins the heart of theatergoers, her cast members and the show’s male lead, tenor Billy Lawler (Jacob ben Widmar).

Widmar, who has a wonderful voice, and Wockenfuss, who is a fantastic dancer, shine in their scenes together. Kelly steals the spotlight as prima donna Brock, who is in the show because her sugar daddy Abner Dillon (Erick Devine) has bankrolled the production; her vocal in “About a Quarter to Nine” is terrific.

Moses, a fine singer, is appropriately serious and parental as the jaded veteran director, who lost his fortune in the stock market crash and is in need of a big hit. NSMT favorite David Coffee, who reprises his Scrooge role in “A Christmas Carol” next month, and Tina Johnson make a great comedy duo. Elise Kinnon, as “Anytime Annie,” and her fellow experienced chorus girls Lorraine (Brittany Cattaruzza), Phyllis (Kahlia Davis) and Diane (Sarah Shelton) are sure and steady throughout. Matthew J. Taylor, as Brock’s beau, and Dan Lusardi, as Andy Lee, as the company’s choreographer, also stand out.

The music is sublime. “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” are among the tunes that have stood the test of time.

But the real stars of this production are the hoofers, the chorus girls and boys who turn every production number into an eye-popping extravaganza that draws deafening cheers from audience members. “Lullaby on Broadway” and “We’re in the Money” are phenomenal, as is a clever June Taylor Dancers-like choreographed number that shows onscreen the dancers from above.

“42nd Street” is a true dancing feat. See it.

“42nd Street,” at North Shore Music Theatre, through Sunday. For ticket information, go to nsmt.org.

More Stories In Lifestyle