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The Play-Goer: Talent Machine’s 42nd Street

You’re never too young to fall for the magic of theater

 

When I went to see 42nd Street on opening night, I remembered my days as a young actress. When the school play was announced, I would race to the audition. I adored the chance to sing, dance and act as someone that I was not. I became a chorus member, a munchkin, a princess, a sailor and a wardrobe. The stage transported me to fairytale lands and long-past eras. Now I love going to youth theater productions to see where and when these children are transported today.

         Talent Machine Company has assembled a talented cast of kids from ages seven to 15 to bring 42nd Street to the stage.

         In this musical set in Great Depression-era showbiz, ingénue Peggy Sawyer (Keira Ellis) auditions for the show of the great Julian Marsh (Henry Wright), Pretty Lady.

         Hindering the production are the whims of the show’s contract-bound star, Dorothy Brock (Abbie Smith), an actress past her dancing prime. Her acknowledged boyfriend Abner Dillon (Jaden Givens) is the show’s benefactor, but she has fallen in love with another, Pat Denning (Sam Starr). Peggy falls afoul of Dorothy on opening night, breaking her ankle and losing her job. With the help of the chorus girls, Peggy finds a way to return to the show, saves the day and launches her own career into stardom.

         The show is filled with spectacular song and dance. Director Malarie Zeeks’ promise that the show is dance heavy is absolutely right, with ensemble tap dance numbers in almost every scene. Hours and hours of rehearsal were devoted to practice. The actors’ hard work paid off, and the dance numbers are top-notch. The routines are amazing, from Peggy’s advanced steps to the two synchronized cops who stole the audience’s hearts without speaking a word.

         The actors conducted themselves with the maturity of adults, and with that level of skill as well. Body language and facial expressions enhanced every line.

         As a businessman, Julian Marsh must be formal and stern, so Wright reflects that with his stiff posture and body language; yet he softens when he speaks with Peggy. Smith also captured the essence of a star out of her element without looking uncomfortable on stage. She carried herself with refinement and experience, which provided a nice contrast with the eager energy that Ellis brought to newcomer Peggy.

         Costumes make these kids look their parts, and color-coding tells us who’s who.

         The set is simple, with two staircases leading to a platform that serves as another area. This can make location transitions a bit confusing at times, but it is also used to masterful effect in combination with lighting, showcasing both a bar filled with performers and Dorothy’s apartment. At times, the microphones could not pick up the voices of the cast, but the actors and actresses were usually projecting their voices well enough that they could still be heard.

         42nd Street is a delightful ride. The cast deserved their standing ovation; they went out as youngsters, but came back as stars.

 

Playing July 19-22 ThFSa 7:30pm, Su 2pm, at two hours, with a 15 minute intermission. Talent Machine, Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis, $15 w/discounts, rsvp: www.talentmachine.com.