42nd Street at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
Going into the new updated version of 42nd Street at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on Friday wasn’t as fresh to me as it was to others…because I hadn’t seen the show before. That’s right, another classical Broadway show was crossed off my list. Since it was announced last year, the Ordway has touted this project as a new reimagined version with “revisions, updates, and some new twists that are totally unique to [their] production,” according to the Ordway’s Producing Artistic Director, Rod Kaats. However, you can only make a first impression once so this will forever be my version and experience with this musical and I’ll say that it was a pretty good first experience to have with it.
42nd Street tells the story we all know of a group of performers trying to create a show and ultimately move it to the shimmering and shiny streets of Broadway. A young girl, Peggy Sawyer, steps into the rehearsal space of an upcoming show and is thrust into the life of a Broadway chorus girl. As she navigates the various cast and crew, she realizes it’s going to be a lot harder than she thought. After a few mishaps with the stars leading lady, it’s time for Peggy to tap her way through the show as the star instead.
42nd Street plot is simple, a little too simple. It relies heavily on a plot line we’ve seen many times including stereotypes of characters like the experienced stage diva, a grouchy boss or director and the young naive girl from a small town trying to make it big in the city. Frankly, it’s just not deep enough for me. Whether it was intended this way so that the dancing can shine or not, I just wanted a little deeper of a connection with the characters.
Near the end of the show, as Peggy prepares to go on as the lead, Dorothy Brock, the original lead in the show until she broke her ankle tries bestowing some advice. It’s a sweet moment and she says something that really stuck out to me. She said, “The audiences wants youth.” This one sentence could have propelled her character into more of an actual story or assisted in diving into a backstory. I’m disappointed it didn’t.
While the plot is sub-par, the dancing is nothing short of absolutely phenomenal and a testament to the skill that is in this city. The cast, which features a large amount of Twin Cities locals, performs some of the best tap dancing I’ve seen in my life. I’ve seen a lot before but nothing prepared me for the innovative and unique tap dances I saw at this show.
This beautifully diverse cast of actors perform it well however behind every great dance number is a choreographer who planned it and that person is the true star of this show. Choreographer Jared Grimes has developed a new standard of how this show should be performed from now on. His styling of these dances had the joy of nostalgic Broadway tap with a younger hip flair that truly excelled. As the curtain fell on Act I, I couldn’t help myself but think “How are they going to top that?” after watching them literally tap dance on golden coins! It was glitzy, glamorous and skillful.
42nd Street is still a musical which means it there is not only dancing but plenty of singing. While many of the songs are really just songs within the show they are rehearsing, each one is still performed well. Tony Award winner Tamara Tunie, who stars in the show as Dorothy, has such a smooth and sultry voice that I wish she had more solo numbers to showcase it off more. Jamecia Bennett, who plays Maggie Jones, has a voice that fills the Ordway and has many humorous comedic bits. Bennett also is a dynamic duo with Tyler Michaels, who plays Bert Barry, and they often are the driving comedic force of the show.
Very often, critics, directors and other performers will claim an actor is a triple threat but a lot of the time they really aren’t quite. I believe a true triple threat performer is so incredibly skilled in the three performance arts of acting, singing and dancing that it’s impossible to say which one is the weakest link. There is a triple threat in this cast… and his name is Phillip Attmore. Attmore can sing, tap act and also has a smile that probably can be seen in the last row of the top balcony.
The Ordway’s 42nd Street steps in all the right places from that first tap of the shoe till the last actor stops. Near the end of the show, I was so relaxed yet energized by the sound of tap that I truly think the Ordway should be investing in some tap dancing ASMR recordings.
42nd Street plays at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts now through August 11.