Few musicals outside of "A Chorus Line" have placed as much emphasis on the art of dance as the "new" version of the old Ruby Keeler movie musical "42nd Street" from 1933, transformed into a stage production in 1980 and revived periodically ever since.
The rendition currently tapping its way into the hearts of audiences at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts — through Nov. 22 — is a shining example of fancy footwork and ensemble excellence. Choreographer Randy Skinner recreates the brilliant moves of Gower Champion, who died on opening night in 1980, and adds some new moves of his own.
This high-stepping production, directed by Mark Bramble, who co-wrote the script with Michael Stewart, features a chorus line that nearly overshadows the central plot. But a strong corps of actors in the central roles somehow manages to serve up this vintage, borderline-cliched material with energy and pizzaz.
Audiences await the show's signature line — "You're going out there a nobody, but you've got to come back a star" — with the same anticipation with which they devoured memorable catch phrases of other works: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," "I'll have what she's having" and, from the center's recent production of "Dirty Dancing," "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."
Neophyte actress Peggy Sawyer, just off the bus from Allentown, Pa., is nicely interpreted by Caitlin Ehlinger — who strangely, and undeservedly, gets the No. 3 curtain call. Blame it on her youth?
Ehlinger's electric footwork in tap shoes instantly marks her a keeper, and her sheer determination firmly completes her character.
Matthew J. Taylor, as the demanding director of the show within the show, has some of the most stereotyped dialogue ever conceived, but his presence is strong enough to sell it emphatically. He's also a somewhat shaky, yet quite plausible, romantic lead.
The Broadway diva whose sugar daddy is backing the production financially is played with steely and forceful malice by Kaitlin Lawrence, who hacks her way through 1930s-era stereotyping to come up with a fine interpretation.
Comic relief always is welcome, but Britt Steele turns up the volume past Ethel Merman proportions as the show's co-writer and supporting player, becoming somewhat irritating. Blake Stadnik scores smoothly as the song and dance man with an eye on Peggy.
DJ Canaday is solidly sincere as Lawrence's secret lover, while Mark Fishback is a bit of a caricature as her rotund Texan financial interest. Lamont Brown heads up the chorus with a pair of flashing feet.
That chorus is, in a word, brilliant — an ensemble that works as a finely tuned unit on such production numbers as "We're in the Money" and the title song. It's the single aspect of "42nd Street" that audiences are most likely to remember.
Come and meet those dancing feet, as the show's tag line heralds, and rediscover some classic show tunes along the way. "42nd Street" may be a piece of vintage theatrical artwork, but its sheer energy and ensemble excellence will get your toes tapping at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
IF YOU GO
What: "42nd Street"
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Art, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays until Nov. 22
Cost: $20 to $59
Information: (714) 556-2787