42ND STREET at Music Theatre Wichita, Century II Concert

After a two year hiatus, Music Theatre Wichita is FINALLY back in the Century II Concert Hall and Wichita Theatregoers couldn’t be happier! There was no better way to celebrate the return than an incredible performance of 42nd Street! I’m sad the show didn’t run another week, and sadder still if you didn’t get to see it. For those who did, it was nothing short of magnificent!

42nd Street boasts a book by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble, with music by Harry Warren, and lyrics by Al Dubin. The musical is based on a novel of the same name, written in 1932 by Bradford Ropes. The novel examines the lives of show folks in the Roaring Twenties, and is written in a gritty documentary style. The novel was made into a classic movie musical in 1933 directed by Lloyd Bacon, with a script by Rian James and James Seymour, and starred Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, and Ginger Rogers, and was set in the Great Depression. The film was choreographed by Busby Berkeley. The movie was very successful at the box office and is now a classic. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 1998, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. In 2006, it ranked 13th on the American Film Institute’s list of best musicals. A stage adaption of the film debuted on Broadway in 1980, directed and choreographed by Gower Champion. The show won two Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The show within a show concept shows the journey of a unknown showgirl, Peggy Sawyer, making it in a Broadway show called Pretty Lady, despite all the obstacles, and complications, including questioning her own self-worth.

Hearing the full Orchestra was incredible! It was so lush and most welcome after a two year absence. Music Direction by Flint Hawes was flawless. The show was smartly cast, deftly directed and brilliantly choreographed by Brian J. Marcum. Scenic Designer Bruce Brockman provided us with some lovely Art Deco interiors and set pieces, including a sweet Pullman car for Shuffle off to Buffalo, and a breathtaking staircase of light for the title number 42nd Street. Another standout piece was the turntable and mirrors used in the Maison de Dames Busby Berkley number, to great effect. Lighting Designer Maranda DeBusk created some gorgeous noir moments, along with some spectacular shadow play for the Shadow Waltz. Costume Designer Debbie Roberts dressed the cast in gorgeous, colorful, sparkling, glamourous, and sumptuous garments. Dixon Reynolds provided additional designs and coordinated costumes. Danae Jiminez complimented the designs with the most lovely (and accurate) period wigs and hair styles.

Wichita native Injoy Fountain, who is best known for her appearance on The Voice (Go, Team Kelly!) played Maggie Jones, a wisecracking musical comedy writer, and she was electric. Fountain landed all her jokes and sounded like a million bucks. It was great to hear her rich, classic musical comedy voice again, after her dramatic portrayal of Celie in The Color Purple at Roxy’s Downtown. Playing opposite Fountain as her partner in crime, fellow writer Bert Barry, was Matt Crowle, and their chemistry was so smooth and natural. Crowle, who was in the Broadway company of Spamalot, is a multiple Jeff Award winning Chicagoan making his MTWichita debut. Playing Barry as a classic old school mug, a wonderful vaudeville Groucho Marx type character, Crowle’s strong voice and equally strong dance skills made him a natural for this role. Crowle’s tap solo at the curtain call was superb.

Crowle also partnered with MTW veteran Emily Orr (Anytime Annie) in Shuffle Off to Buffalo, which was outstanding – their energy was palpable, with impeccable singing and dancing. They were mesmerizing. Renaissance woman Orr is a WSU Grad, and we last saw her perform in Wichita as Feste in Twelfth Night. Orr is graduating with an MFA from Penn State.

Local actor Bray Wilkins played Pat Denning, Dorothy Brock’s love interest, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the audience to have a religious experience listening to his deep, rich, and resonant voice. Wilkings was the perfect foil for Paula Leggett Chase’s Dorothy Brock. Chase delivers a smoky, torchy I Only Have Eyes For You, and we all understand why. I pray next time Wilkins is on the MTWichita stage, we get to hear him sing!

Logan Becker is an MT major at CCPA, with a concentration in dance, and he sure got to show that off as he played Andy Lee, the tapping Dance Captain. His footwork was super clean, and he danced with great verve, selling his many solos, including Go Into Your Dance.

Sammy Schechter, a recent graduate of CCM, was an incredible Billy Lawlor, the classic hoofer/production tenor of the era. His voice was perfect for this show, and his tapping was extraordinary. It’s only a matter of time before we see him on Broadway.

Broadway and TV veteran Tom Galantich was the perfect Julian Marsh. He drew a meticulous portrait of a hard bitten, driven man of the greatest generation, a man who surprises us with his integrity, but is reluctant to show his humanity. When he does, we love Marsh even more. His reprise of Lullaby of Broadway at the end of the show was classic Broadway at its finest.

My favorite Paula Leggett Chase performance for MTW was her Violet in 9 to 5. She has the versatility to move from a realistic character like Violet to a stylized character like Dorothy Brock. She moves from production numbers like The Shadow Waltz and The Act One Finale

with a seductive flair reminiscent of the 30s, and then breaks down Brock’s fa├žade with About a Quarter to Nine, a lovely duet with Lena Owens (Peggy Sawyer). It was a real pleasure to watch Chase perform.

Lena Owens’s Peggy Sawyer was delightful. You might say Owen’s story is similar to Sawyer’s. Owens graduated from Oklahoma State in 2019, and had been an ensemble member of MTWichita since 2017, and was suddenly thrust into a leading role. Owens’s Peggy Sawyer was mighty and plucky, eager but not brash. Her exquisite voice combined with her lyrical movement and accurate tap chops made her performance ethereal and memorable. Here is another young talent we’ll see on Broadway soon enough.

The whole sequence of the Pretty Lady opening was incredible. The signature number 42nd Street, replete with sparkling costumes, and dazzling choreography on the LED lit STAIRS was pretty amazing and stopped the show. I can’t say enough about the incredible ensemble Marcum hired for this show. The dancing was so clean. As the company rolled into the finale, we were treated to some perfect fan kicks by Paula Leggett Chase, who reminded us why she is a distinguished Broadway performer. The audience was on its feet! I’m so sorry if you missed this show!

What’s up next for MTW? Kinky Boots at the Century II Concert Hall from July 6-10. To purchase tickets, you have several choices. You can call 316-265-3107, or you can visit them at their ticket office in the outer lobby of Century II Concert Hall at 225 W. Douglas, Wichita, KS 67202. On the web, visit https://mtwichita.org/tickets/event-list.php

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