Who doesn’t want to hear “We’re In the Money” right about now? OK, so we’re not, but that’s no reason to skip out on such buff fluff as TUTS’ snazzy production of 42nd Street at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Judging from the endless mob occupying the hill above Miller, Houston is showing. What’s not to like in listening to classic tunes under a rather pleasant-for-Houston summer night, and all for free. Optimism is seldom better packaged than in B’way musicals.
Based on the 1933 Warner Bros film, 42nd Street is the quintessential backyard, let’s put in a show, chorus girl rises to stardom in 24 hours, musical. And if that’s not enough, there’s an unapologetically thin love story and a hefty dose of sensational tap numbers. Plus, Henry Warren’s memorable songs such as “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” and the bluesy show-stopper “42nd Street” are always worth revisiting.
TUTS does a fine job with this production as director Norb Joerder plays it close to the legendary Gower Champion’s epic choreography and direction. (Tragically, Champion died hours before 42nd Street opened on Broadway in 1980.) The cast—terrific all—is headed up by Loretta Swit (“Hot Lips” in the TV series M*A*SH) as the reigning B’way diva Dorothy Brock. Swit, albeit not a natural songstress, still has a luminous presence. With her wide smile, still-svelte frame and throaty voice, she adds a shiny Hollywood touch.
Shannon M. O’Bryan is 100% fresh air as Peggy Sawyer, the small town girl who gets the guy (two of them, to be precise) and the leading part when Brock breaks her ankle. Houston native and TUTS alum Austin Miller gives Billy Lawlor, the know it all boy about backstage, enough spunk to put on the show all by himself. Miller’s smooth tenor combined with his savvy chops on the boards, make him one to watch. (And watch you did. You might remember him as the kid that should have won on NBC’s Grease: You’re the One That I Want.) Miller and O’Bryan are especially mesmerizing in the smokin’ hot tap sequence in “42nd Street” number.
Steve Blanchard adds a suave polish to his portrayal as the tough and sexy director Julian Marsh, totally rocking the house in his rendition of the triple Oscar-winning song, “Lullaby of Broadway.” Denise Nolin conjured a young Ethel Merman in her performance as the gypsy veteran Maggie Jones. The ensemble delights in their ace tap skills and over-the-top glam. Sitting in Miller’s comfy new seats, whirling fans above cooling the night air, slurpee in hand, taking in a smash vintage show set during the Depression (you know, the other one)—what better way is there to forget the fact that we’re not in the money? – Nancy Wozny
Reprinted from Houston ArtsWeek.