Photo by David Popken
The cast performs a scene from the Broadway at LPAC’s production of “42nd Street.”
By AARON KRAUSE
In the classic Broadway musical, 42nd Street, a character invites another to “come on along and listen to…the lullaby of Broadway.”
But a current professional production of that award-winning musical in South Florida will hardly lull you to sleep. Quite the contrary, the mounting by the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, The City of Lauderhill, and Arts Center Management will invigorate you. In addition, it will leave you admiring the work of the triple threat performers and backstage crew.
For instance, roughly 30 sets of heels click in unison, with energy, and without missing a beat during tapdancing portions of the show. Those feet belong to roughly 30 vivacious performers with animated faces and clarion voices.
These talented performing artists will appear on stage at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center near Ft. Lauderdale through March 5. The production is part of the inaugural Broadway at LPAC season.
Under Michael Ursua’s smart direction and staging, the performances sparkle like the actors’ dazzling costumes, credited to costumer Penny Koleos Williams. In addition, this production appropriately uses oversized platforms that resemble dimes for the performers to dance on during the upbeat song, “We’re in the Money.”
But this production is not just a visual feast. In addition, believable emotion escapes the performers’ voices. This is true whether they are speaking dialogue from Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s humorous, engaging book or singing Al Dubin’s clever lyrics, which Harry Warren set to glorious music.
As you may know, 42nd Street is a 1980 Broadway musical that celebrates the glitz and glamor of Broadway. But this show also honors theater artists’ resiliency and hard work.
42nd Street takes place at the height of the Great Depression in New York City. Specifically, the show transports us to a Broadway theater in the early 1930’s, where auditions are winding down for the fictional Broadway musical, Pretty Lady.
Suddenly, aspiring chorus girl Peggy Sawyer walks into the room fresh off the bus from her home in Allentown, Pa. While the audition is officially over, the show’s romantic lead brings her on board. However, Sawyer does not make an initial positive impression on the show’s impatient and demanding director, Julian Marsh. To make matters worse, the show’s leading lady breaks her ankle right before opening night, sidelining her indefinitely. It is an accident that Sawyer may have caused without meaning to. But it may just be Sawyer who saves Pretty Lady from closing before it opens.
Sawyer is a starry-eyed small-town girl with dreams of becoming a Broadway star. It is easy to pull for this charming, wide-eyed young woman, especially if you have ever dreamed big and wished that dream would come true. But Sawyer can inspire anyone who simply desires a share of the American Dream and is willing to work hard for it.
Certainly, Sawyer will have to sweat if she wants to succeed at replacing injured star, prima donna Dorothy Brock. To be specific, Sawyer will need to learn 25 pages, six songs, and 10 dance numbers, all in 36 hours.
While book writers Stewart and Bramble may be exaggerating, the numbers give you an idea of the type of work performers must put in to make it on the big stage.
Come to think of it, it would have been nice for the show’s creators to give us more insight into how performers prepare for a part. For instance, what did Sawyer do to learn all that material so quickly? Also, we learn next to nothing about Pretty Lady.
But even without that information, 42nd Street has enough positive qualities to move an audience. In addition to giving us a likable heroine, the librettists present her with a formidable obstacle in ambitious and proud director Julian Marsh. In order for Sawyer to take Brock’s place, she will have to win him over. And Marsh has no patience for latecomers.
Speaking of Marsh, Broadway performer Patrick Ryan Sullivan portrays the character forcefully yet believably. Sullivan, standing tall and proud, speaks in a sharp voice that leaves no doubt that his character is in charge. The veteran actor imbues Marsh with fierce pride, ambition, and even arrogance.
To his credit, Sullivan softens considerably toward the end. That is when Marsh sings the show-stopping number “Lullaby of Broadway.” Sullivan sings the number with the enthusiasm it deserves.
During the song, Seana Nicol, as Sawyer, maintains a defiant posture and expression. It is only at the end of the song that Nicol’s Sawyer happily agrees to step into Pretty Lady’s leading role.
Overall, Nicol lends Sawyer an infectious optimism and eagerness that endears us to her. We want her to succeed. At first, Nicol’s Sawyer seems insecure and modest, but she grows more confident (but not arrogant) as the show progresses. To Nicol’s credit, the change happens slowly and practically unnoticeably.
Sawyer is a challenging role. That is because a performer must convince us that the inexperienced young woman has potential as a performer and is capable of quickly transforming into an actor who performs like a seasoned veteran. Fortunately, Nicol makes this transition appear seamless.
Another cast standout is Colleen Pagano as Dorothy Brock. Pagano matches Sullivan’s intensity, embodying Brock with an appropriately oversized ego and forcefulness while appearing natural. Later, Pagano appropriately mellows. At this point, she lends her character a sympathetic demeanor when Brock gives Sawyer a pep talk before the young woman goes on stage as the lead in Pretty Lady.
The entire cast succeeds, with each actor creating a believable character and demonstrating deft comic timing.
The actors perform on scenery from 3D Theatricals. Generally, the scenery looks realistic and slides on and off the stage without calling too much attention to itself.
Also, behind the scenes, lighting designer Preston Bircher’s work provides focus, emphasis, and enhances mood.
Instead of a live orchestra, this production uses a musical recording from The MT Pit L.L.C. On its website, the organization claims to offer “premiere Broadway instrumental tracks from world-class artists to set the stage for your next production.” While the music does not sound as rich as a live orchestra, it suffices.
So far, the inaugural Broadway at LPAC season has proved to be a success with quality productions of The Full Monty and 42nd Street. Up next is Always…Patsy Cline, a celebration of the legendary country songstress. Performances of that show begin at the end of March.
The 2023 Broadway at LPAC’s production of 42nd Street runs through March 5 at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center. The address is 3800 N.W. 11th Place (northeast corner of 441 and Sunrise). Performances are at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday; as well as 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The running time is roughly two hours and 20 minutes, including an intermission. For more information, go to https://www.showpass.com/lpacfl-42nd-street-23-02-16-14-3243/ or call (954) 777-2055.
Photo by David Popken
Peggy Sawyer (Seana Nicol) and Julian Marsh (Patrick Ryan Sullivan) share a moment in Broadway at the LPAC’s production of 42nd Street.