There was symmetry—not at all accidental, I’m sure—to Pioneer Theatre Company beginning its season with A Chorus Line and ending with 42nd Street. Both musicals were shows about theatrical life, about people struggling to make a living out of entertaining an audience. And both productions showed why we should support them.
Like the 1933 movie musical on which it was based, 42nd Street comes with the kind of paper-thin, underdog-makes-good premise just strong enough to support the various musical numbers. Peggy Sawyer (Lea Kohl) is a young, would-be hoofer just off the train from Allentown, Pa., hoping to make it as a chorus girl on Broadway. Director/producer Julian Marsh (Dennis Parlato) is putting together a brand-new musical, and Peggy might get a chance at joining the ensemble. Or, she might get an even bigger break, if bad luck befalls aging star Dorothy Brock (Beth Glover).
If the humming of the older audience members around me is any indication, plenty of folks will be delighted simply to hear the Harry Warren/ Al Dubin classics that fill the score: “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” “We’re in the Money,” the title song and more. And the vocal performances are solid. But the real joy comes from the astonishing group dance numbers like the audition opener—choreographed by PTC’s brilliant Patti D’Beck—that send the sound of tap shoes ricocheting through the theater. The pure theatrical pleasure of the dancers’ work is a reminder of what makes artists’ efforts worth supporting.