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Review: ‘42nd Street’ at the Carpenter Center has plenty of pizazz

Audiences craving unbridled pizazz should race to “42nd Street” at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach. Musical Theatre West opens its 60th season with the indestructible backstager, and scores a toe-tapping triumph.

When it premiered in 1980, this stage adaptation of the landmark 1933 film based on Bradford Ropes’ novel made headlines over producer David Merrick’s opening-night announcement of helmer Gower Champion’s death. The show won the Tony Award, ran 3,486 performances, toured everywhere and returned in revised form in 2001, a hit all over again.

Yes, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book is only connective tissue between one Harry Warren-Al Dubin standard after another. The rental sets and costumes in Long Beach at best only echo Robin Wagner and Theoni V. Aldredge’s sumptuous originals.

Yet director-choreographer Jon Engstrom, musical director Michael Borth and a bravura ensemble -- headed by Damon Kirsche as martinet director Julian Marsh, Tracy Lore as imperious star Dorothy Brock and the marvelous Tessa Grady as starry-eyed neophyte Peggy Sawyer -- don’t let anything hinder their oomph.

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From the opening curtain rising on a line of time-stepping feet, through the rainbow-hued “Dames” and gilt-edged “We’re in the Money,” to the title tap ballet, everyone onstage seems so ecstatic that we’d gladly break their ankles to trade places. Zach Hess’ dulcet juvenile, Barbara Carlton Heart’s gonzo writer, Jamie Torcellini’s impish dance director and Caitlyn Calfas’ savvy chorine typify the energies of a huge, gifted cast.

Thus when the claret-voiced Lore embraces the giddy silhouettes of “Shadow Waltz,” or Grady triplicates the challenging steps of “Go Into Your Dance” or ever-versatile Kirsche launches the climactic “Lullaby of Broadway” with spine-tingling resonance, musical theater heaven is nigh. As this emphatic revival thankfully proves, old-school moxie and sheer talent haven’t yet gone the way of the dodo.

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“42nd Street,” Musical Theatre West at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach. Schedule varies. Ends Nov. 11. $20-$97. (562) 856-1999 or www.musical.org. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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