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Casa's '42nd Street' is a magical musical treat

42nd Street

Through Nov. 18 at Casa Mañana Theatre, 3101 W. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth

7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Tickets $41-$76, 817-332-2272; www.casamanana.org

Posted 7:27am on Monday, Nov. 12, 2012

FORT WORTH — Casa Manana has something special on tap for you, literally.

Its sparkling production of the old-style musical 42nd Street, which opened Saturday, is brimming with dazzling tap dancing exhibitions. These hoofers generate so many sparks, they light up the show like a four-alarm blaze.

The dancing is so good, in fact, that it equals the quality of the singing.

This 1980 musical, which features tunes by Harry Warren with lyrics by Al Dubin, is based on the 1933 movie of the same title. It is one of the corniest and most clichéd works in the repertoire -- a Broadway show about doing a Broadway show.

But because this work wears its triteness so proudly, it works. Its old-fashioned, “all-singing, all-dancing” attitude laid over a hackneyed plot (the small town talent comes to the big city to be a star) is so familiar that it puts the audience in an immediate comfort zone. This is indeed your grandfather’s musical.

The charge in this production is led by Kirstin Tucker as Peggy Sawyer, the cute-as-a-button, wide-eyed ingénue who leaves Allentown with only a beat-up suitcase and a nearly empty purse to take on the Great White Way. Her vocals and dancing are fabulous and she nails the character without falling into the easy trap of overplaying the innocence card. When she makes the transformation from neophyte to star at the show’s end, it is almost startling.

Surrounding her is an incredibly well-chosen cast of outstanding local performers and visiting talent.

Allison Briner is a consummate musical theater pro as Dorothy Brock, the fading (but still supremely able) leading lady who passes the baton to Sawyer. Ted Koch, as the show’s harsh and harried director Julian Marsh, has to do more real acting than anyone else and takes care of his chores nicely.

Charles MacEachern, as one of Sawyer’s potential love interests, Billy Lawlor, has an especially outstanding voice. The footwork of dance captain Robbie Roby, as Andy Lee, stands out in a cast that could make a dance teacher weep with pride.

All of the chorines, led by the brassy “Anytime Annie” Reilly (Paige Wheat), are wonderful.

And one of the biggest treats of all in this production is seeing the glorious Linda Leonard, as Maggie Jones, back on a Fort Worth stage. We do not see this fine actress-singer nearly often enough.

These superior performances are dressed in beautifully crafted period costumes by Tammy Spencer that provide not only a charming throw-back look, but also a distinct retro feel. And the women’s wigs, by Patricia Delsordo, are just perfect.

The nine-piece pit orchestra, led by musical director Sheilah Walker, makes an enormous contribution to the driving, robust personality of this production.

The program acknowledges the original direction and choreography of Broadway legend Gower Champion. But even if this production’s director, Tim Bennett and choreographer Dontee Kiehn were working from an existing plan, that does not mean their efforts do not deserve a ton of praise. Whoever laid out the steps, it is Kiehn who has made sure the dancers follow their plans with such stunning precision. And the credit for the brisk pace and well-honed performances in this show goes, ultimately, to Bennett.

The only slight failing of this production is that it does not make much of an effort to do anything with sets and backdrops. So it could have more visual appeal than it does. But the performances are so engaging from top to bottom in this well-balanced show that, even if there were great sets behind this exceptional cast, we probably wouldn’t notice them.

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