WINDHAM HIGH SCHOOL’S “42nd STREET” REVIVAL IS “BETTER THAN BEST”

 WHS 42nd Street 1 WHS 42nd Street 2 WHS 42nd Street 3 WHS 42nd Street 4 WHS 42nd Street 5 WHS 42nd Street 6 WHS 42nd Street 7 WHS 42nd Street 8 WHS 42nd Street 9 WHS 42nd Street 10 WHS 42nd Street 11 WHS 42nd Street 12

November, 2014

(Photos: Paul Noble Images)

For the lover of nostalgic Broadway blockbuster musicals with legendary talent, relentless razzle-dazzle and parades of colorful characters who sing and dance like it’s 1933, there’s great news: You have one more weekend to see Windham High School’s presentation of 42nd Street. Do it!

Forget your preconceived notions of the typical high school production. This massive undertaking—a feast of divine artistry two years in the making—is unmitigated proof that when it comes to performing arts, Windham High School is no typical high school.

Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes and the 1933 Warner Brothers film, 42nd Street focuses on the effort of famed Great White Way director Julian Marsh to mount a successful song and dance extravaganza at the height of the Great Depression. In 1980, Producer David Merrick’s $3 million gamble to transfer the original movie musical to the live stage proved successful…“larger and more polished than anything Broadway really had,” according to theater historian John Kenrick.

The cast of 50 WHS actors, singers and dancers (and crew of 20 and a pit of 12) have no problem transforming Route 202 into their own Great White Way and putting forth a spectacular product that is comparable to the best community and regional theater offerings. Director Rob Juergens has every reason to be proud.

“I have to say I could not have pulled off such a demanding show without one of the best production teams ever,” wrote Juergens in the PlayBill, acknowledging his ace trio of producers Laura Fleischer, Kim McBride and Carol Meader.

With a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, lyrics by Al Dubin and music by Harry Warren, 42nd Street offers every opportunity for lush production value—and Juergens and his team know exactly how to maximize the magic of theater. “That’s Broadway!”

In his role as Julian Marsh, Jake Noble is solid. Dapper and costumed to the nines, Noble competently pulls off the role of the notorious Broadway mastermind who is laser-focused on his upcoming production, Pretty Lady. He is crisp and disciplined and has no time for nonsense—or distractions from a wannabee chorus girl named Peggy Sawyer from Allentown. Or does he?

Right from the start, Sawyer is befriended by Billy Lawlor who has landed the leading tenor role in Pretty Lady. Adam Poitras is sheer delight with his interpretation of Lawlor. From his very first note in “Young and Healthy,” and throughout his production numbers, Poitras brings a refreshing retro style of singing and dancing to life. At times, I thought I was watching a young Fred Astaire.

Sawyer is played by Emily Gagné who perfectly balances her character’s naiveté, nervousness and enthusiasm to fatefully win the heart of Marsh—and a spot in the chorus. Gagné brings years of dance and theater experience to her role. She is clearly comfortable in her own skin as she exudes confidence and cheerfulness, easily winning the heart of the audience as well.

Sawyer’s big break comes when the star of Pretty Lady, Dorothy Brock, gets her big break—of her ankle. As a last resort, Sawyer is tapped to fill in for the leading lady, but not after a cat-and-mouse game that humbles the mighty Marsh to apologize and see the ingénue for who she really is…and perhaps more. (That was Jerry Orbach, wasn’t it?)

But it was Jennifer Bernier who unwittingly commandeers the show from her first entrance with her amazing vocals and ball-of-fire personality. She doesn’t play the role of Dorothy Brock, she IS Dorothy Brock. Bernier is the personification of the classic beautiful leading lady of the big studio black and white moving pictures of yesteryear. She is the epitome of the elegant 1930s starlet emanating grace and style, a gifted performer with an impressive maturity beyond her years (I didn’t realize Debbie Reynolds went to WHS).

It was the Marsh-Sawyer-Lawlor-Brock line-up (What’s next, Singing In The Rain?) that brought the vintage realism of the 42nd Street era to the huge WHS PAC stage. But they had lots of help from an array of co-stars who were superb in their supporting roles onstage. The WHS stage is huge but was so effectively used so that no one-liners, bit parts or shtick was lost.

The production numbers were over-the-top extraordinary: “Getting Out Of Town,” “Dames,” “We’re In The Money,” “Lullaby Of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off To Buffalo,” and of course the title song. Equally strong were Bernier’s “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “About A Quarter To Nine” (duet with Gagné).

Noteworthy performances were rendered by Jackie Gleason-Boure (Maggie Jones), Andrew Cooper and Ellie Joseph (Andy Lee), Andrew Shepard (Bert Barry), David Kaschub (Pat Denning), Emily Algeo (Mac), Parker Quimby (Abner Dillon), Ali Wintle (Annie Reilly), Samantha Barry (Phyllis), Dani Meader (Lorraine), Ellie Joseph and Lana Pillsbury (Gladys), Anna Giroux (Diane) and Jaydie Allen (Ethel).

The music was stupendous, with Dr. Richard Nickerson at the helm. His pit included Sandy Barry (sax/clarinet), Randy Crockett (trombone), Gabe Curtisbrown (percussion), Kris Dow (French horn), Cora Dykens (clarinet), Scott Gordan (trumpet), Daniel Juergens (drums), Seth Martin (bass), Margaret McGovern (violin), Betty McIntyre (piano) and David Young (guitar).

The ensemble featured Celine Baker, Hannah Brackett, Kayleigh Clinch, Logan Cropper, Naomi DiBiase, Megan Doughty, Danielle Dyer, Julia Egna, Hanna Griffin, Joanne Haibon, Julia Hamilton, Caleb MacDonald, Libby McBride, Sean Mains, Tabitha Newquist, Maggie Nunn, Mandi O’Connor, Lana Pillsbury, Devon Plummer, Kamesha Pottinger, Annie Stuchbury, Maia Tangen, Mary Thompson, Jordan Torelli, Natalie Walker, Will Wheaton and Lauren Wojtysiak.

The Tech Crew included Hannah Allen, Jason Bailey, Elliot Clark, Liz Erskine, Maura Gallagher, Rachel Gomes, Greg Meader, Avery Miller, Rachel O’Connor, Savannah Rice, Caleb Schrock, David Sepulveda, Isaac Sibley and Sierra Yost.

Choreographer Vanessa S.W. Beyland should be nominated for sainthood. She so cleverly and effectively turned a huge cast of students with varying levels of dance experience into a cohesive work of moving art. From a wonderful group of featured and trained dancers to the non-dancers, everyone shined.

And everyone looked fabulous—thanks to Costume Designer Weslie Evans who painstakingly and lovingly created over 300 costume changes. Evans has been giving her fashion expertise to WHS for over 10 years and knows how to make high school kids look good on stage.

CJ Payne, also a veteran of numerous WHS shows, created some magic with his contributions as Technical Director and Set Designer. The sets, the lights, the tech—all effective and significant factors to the show’s success.

The Best Lines Award goes to Jake Noble for his brilliant quips: “Pick one for good measure;” “Look at you, with eyes shining like a kid on Christmas;” “You’re going out there a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star;” and of course the immortal “You have to be better than best”…and they were!

The show runs one more weekend: Friday and Saturday, November 21 & 22 @ 7pm, and Sunday, November 16 @ 4pm, at the Windham Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $12 adults, $8 children & seniors. Call 893-1742 for reservations or email fallmusical@gmail.com. Do it!

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–Louis Philippe

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One Response to “WINDHAM HIGH SCHOOL’S “42nd STREET” REVIVAL IS “BETTER THAN BEST””

  1. This was a pleasure to read and a great review! Thank you for taking the time to write this. We were all very excited to see it posted.
    Yours,
    Emily Gagne and WHS cast and crew

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