Broadway dreams on StarStruck stage

by Suzy Evans
Milpitas Post – August 6, 2008

In the theater, actors usually exchange the catch phrase “break a leg” before a night’s performance. The saying means “good luck” or “have a great show,” and according to Mel Brooks, it’s actually bad luck to say good luck before a show and you should always use the above expression.

However, in Julian Marsh’s latest show “Pretty Lady,” that expression takes on a literal meaning for the leading lady, and after an unfortunate accident, the cast must contemplate closing the show and losing their jobs in the face of a crippling economy. Now, the financial crisis to which I am referring is the Great Depression not the one making headlines today, and Marsh and his show are merely fiction in the blockbuster musical “42nd Street,” on stage at StarStruck Theatre in Fremont.

Directed by Lori Stokes, StarStruck’s production borders on perfection. I have never been so impressed with a youth theater production. I had to keep reminding myself that I was watching children and not seasoned professionals. At one point in the show, a character exclaims “Kids can do anything!” These youth provide a strong testament to that statement.

“42nd Street” opened on Broadway in 1980 and was revived in 2001, winning the Tony award for best musical and best revival. The show tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a young hopeful straight from Nowhereville, or Allentown, Penn., who dances her way to Broadway with the dream of becoming a star.

However, after a few missed steps arriving late to the audition, fainting during a rehearsal, injuring the leading lady on opening night Peggy’s Broadway days appear to be numbered. Then by a twist of fate, she finds herself in the starring role with the chance to fulfill her fantasy and that of “any kid who’s ever kicked up a heel in the chorus.”

After a catchy overture, the show opens with the curtain hovering a few feet above the stage displaying the time-stepping feet of the cast in the “Audition” number, and before I could even see their contagious smiles, I felt the energy radiating from their tap shoes.

The cast kept this energy at a constant high throughout the performance, whether they were tap dancing on dimes in “We’re in the Money” or cheerfully singing about the lack of income taxes for the unemployed in “Sunnyside to Every Situation.”

My favorite number was “Lullaby of Broadway,” which ironically contains no tap-dancing. In this scene, Julian Marsh (Bohn Kerns) must convince Peggy Sawyer (Juliane Godfrey) to take over the leading role in his show after he rashly fired her. The moment requires great vulnerability from Marsh, who up until this point has been a straight-faced, unyielding, and dare I say typical director/producer. Kerns tackles the scene beautifully and exudes an emotional maturity that rivals many adults.

As Peggy Sawyer, Godfrey lit up the stage with her infectious energy and starry-eyed demeanor, reminiscent of Ruby Keeler, who portrayed the same role in the film version. Yet her dancing ability betrayed her seemingly na ve nature. If you told me she learned how to tap dance before she could walk, I would honestly believe you.

Beatrice Crosby portrayed Dorothy Brock, the aging and out-dated diva who relies on her country western sugar daddy Abner Dillon (an endearingly huggable Robert Norton) to land the starring role in Marsh’s “Pretty Lady,” and Crosby embodied the role effortlessly. Every line she delivered came drenched with bitterness and regret, a positive characteristic when representing a jaded celebrity, yet she sang with an elegance and maturity way beyond her 18 years.

Other standout performances included the young love interest Billy Lawlor (Drew Williams), one of the writers Bert Barry (Jordan Aragon), and the choreographer Andy Lee (Joseph Rivera). With William’s mellifluous vocals, Aragon’s comedic timing, and Rivera’s dancing ability, these boys raise the bar of excellence set in this show.

Aside from the talented performers and show stopping numbers, the intricate costume design of the show accentuated the overall excellence. Every costume could have come straight from the pages of a 1930’s “Vogue,” and the colors popped right off the stage and dazzled in the subtle movements of the stage lights. My only question: Could they really afford such beautifully tailored clothing during the Great Depression? However, I have a hard time complaining when everything was so attractive to watch.

This show undeniably contains the future faces of Broadway, and watching them now is a lot cheaper than a ticket to New York.

StarStruck Theater’s production of “42nd Street” runs through Aug. 16. The theater is located at 43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont. For box office information or to make reservations, (510) 659-1319.