I caught Star Trek: Into Darkness the night before I saw the Pittsburgh CLO's production of 42nd Street and couldn't help comparing the two. Star Trek was OK, but I left thinking it was all green screen with stunt people in wire and harnesses, and rigged blasts and CGI explosions ... and, really, nothing had anything to do with actual people being creative. (Geeks writing computer code doesn't count.)
Meanwhile, at the start of 42nd Street — the house lights dim and the overture gives way to the sound of a rickety piano. Suddenly we hear an explosion of tap dancing, and the front curtain ascends 4 feet, revealing two dozen pairs of legs tapping in unison. The curtain will eventually rise all the way on a group of hopefuls auditioning for a Broadway musical. But that initial swift reveal of sight, sound and, well, real people really creating a dazzling coup d'theatre ... there's suddenly enough humanity to blast you against the back wall.
And that's hardly the only occasion. When, in 1980, director/choreographer Gower Champion made a musical out of the fabled 1933 Warner Bros. movie ("You're going out there a kid, but you've got to come back a star!"), he turned every single Harry Warren & Al Dubin song into a showstopper. Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble wrote a rock-solid script telling the story of young Peggy Sawyer's big break working for director Julian Marsh. Sure, it's not Anna Karenina. But then Star Trek's no Pride and Prejudice.
Charles Repole directs this CLO production, with Michael Lichtefeld recreating much of the Champion choreography. It's a tremendously entertaining production, maybe a little flat in the book scenes, but each number lifts you out of your seat.
Luba Mason is utter perfection as the diva Dorothy Brock, singing and clowning with remarkable precision. Patrick Ryan Sullivan's underplaying of Marsh is a defensible choice which pays off strongly in the second act. And they don't come any more adorable than Ephie Aardema, whose talent makes us believe that Peggy will, indeed, come back a star.
But, ultimately, huge credit to everyone for singing and dancing up a storm ... and doing their own stunts.