BEVERLY - Talk about your fancy footwork. The moment the lights come up on "Audition," the opening number of the musical "42nd Street," the North Shore Music Theatre stage nearly explodes with the energy of two dozen tap dancers. Director Charles Repole and choreographer Michael Lichtefeld set the bar very high with this turbo-powered, razor-sharp production number, but to their credit the cast seems to crank the energy level even more as the show unfolds.
"42nd Street" is a throwback to early movie musicals, with several of Harry Warren's classic songs gathered from the 1930s films in which they first appeared, including, of course, the 1933 movie "42nd Street." Tunes include "I Only Have Eyes for You," "Go Into Your Dance," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," and the title number. The musical opened on Broadway in 1980, under the direction of Gower Champion, and ran for an impressive nine years, with Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble's book cleverly working the songs into a classic star-is-born story.
At the audition, we meet Peggy Sawyer (Melissa Lone), an Allentown, Pa., native with dreams of making it on Broadway. Thanks to the help of the chorines and the show's tenor, she gets into the new musical by famed producer Julian Marsh (Patrick Ryan Sullivan), and when the leading lady breaks her ankle Peggy "goes out as a youngster, but comes back a star."
It should all feel corny and trite, but Repole's direction keeps the action moving so swiftly there's no time to think about the clichés. In fact, the only time he slows things down is to allow for the dialogue, filled with lines that are lifted right from the 1933 movie and still just as funny.
Among the cast, Lone is a terrific dancer, doing complicated tap steps without breaking a sweat. Todd Lattimore, as the romantic lead in Marsh's show, displays an impossibly high tenor and flashy dance moves, especially on "Young and Healthy" and "Dames." As Marsh, Sullivan is a wonderful anchor and delivers both "Lullaby of Broadway" and "42nd Street" from the heart.
Lichtefeld, who choreographed "Bye, Bye Birdie" at North Shore earlier this season, is at ease with the arena staging, and even incorporates some of the Busby Berkeley touches made famous in those '30s movie musicals, with the chorus girls creating patterns in a circle around the star. Another moment proves how closely the director and choreographer work together when, with a minimum of movement, the ensemble members rearrange suitcases to become a train for "Getting Out of Town" and then, just as simply, rearrange themselves to appear on a stage in Philadelphia for rehearsal.
The only time Lichtefeld gets stuck is in the train-station scene, when Marsh lures Peggy back to the show with "Lullaby of Broadway." The ensemble is supposed to appear on the station stairs as backup for Marsh's argument, but too many of North Shore's audience members have to sit behind the action or to the side for this moment to be effective.
Still, that's just quibbling in a production that, led by a terrific orchestra conducted by Craig Barna, is absolutely energizing.