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’42nd Street’ finds just the right tone

It’s easy to enjoy Musical Actors Theatre’s production of “42nd Street” because the performers convince you that song and dance are all it takes to make them the happiest people on earth.

Don’t let the thin plot scare you. Small town girl heads to the Big Apple to break into showbiz. She’s fired from the chorus. But then the mean star breaks a leg and the chorus girl gets to go on in her place. Surprise. She too becomes a star.

The cheekiness is just an excuse for musical fun. First there are those great songs. Gems like “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and “Lullaby of Broadway” are as sophisticated in craftsmanship, inspiration and wit as the best of Stephen Sondheim. And director/choreographer Jim Carey communicates a sense of unforced fun, so that we feel we are discovering the material for the first time.

Then there’s that footwork. What is it about big-cast tap dancing that’s so emotionally overwhelming? I don’t know, but I have a hunch Carey does. What’s amazing here is that he has infused a community-theater cast with a professional attitude. No, they’re not all top-tappers, but they all look confident, at ease and in the midst of play.

There are few things that can quickly kill the fun of musical-comedy dance than dancers who look like they’re working hard. You don’t feel any fear on that stage, and human nature tells you it must exist. The only communication I got from the hoofers was, “Ain’t life great?”

Among the standouts in the cast are Dana Cass as the lucky chorus girl, who projects genuine vulnerability; Stephen McMillan who, as a tough-as-nails producer, is able to show us the tender side beneath his ruthless efficiency; Don Lance, who makes his role as a dirty-old-man investor a genuine comic invention; and Nancy Denton, who manages to both spoof and bring to life the ole’ diva-as-bitch caricature that seems as old as theater itself. We believe this character is a star because Denton has star presence.

It’s difficult to find just the right tone to put across this delightfully cornball enterprise. Carey’s unifying vision shows in every performance. Yet, he does his work without calling attention to the skill involved. He makes the show the star. His quiet professionalism speaks loudly about the hope we can have for this new theater troupe.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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