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What’s the best of all possible summertime musicals? You could do a whole lot worse than “42nd Street,” the stage version of the 1933 movie musical that put the line “You’re going out a youngster—but you’ve got to come back a star!” into the English language. Having racked up two long runs on Broadway, in 1980 and again in 2001, “42nd Street” has since vanished from the stages of Manhattan, but it remains a staple of seemingly every regional theater in America capable of convening a stageful of halfway decent tap dancers. Now the Bucks County Playhouse is mounting it—but in a production to which the words “halfway decent” couldn’t be less relevant. Directed by Hunter Foster, whose 2015 Bucks County revival of “Company” marked him as an up-and-comer, this “42nd Street” is pure fun without a scintilla of cold-weather seriousness.
Mr. Foster’s staging is engagingly cast, and Tessa Grady and Monette McKay are especially winning as Peggy Sawyer, the sweet small-town girl who becomes an overnight smash, and “Anytime” Annie, her spunky sidekick. But “42nd Street” is an ensemble show first and foremost, and in order to produce a proscenium-stage spectacular on a smallish stage in a 409-seat house, every element must be identically persuasive. What is most striking about Mr. Foster’s “42nd Street” is not any individual performance but its total effect…
No major musical, not even “Candide,” is more incapacitatingly flawed than “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” The score, by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner, is a gorgeous necklace on which two 50-carat diamonds, “Come Back to Me” and the title song, are strung. Alas, Lerner’s book, in which a psychiatrist falls in love with a patient who appears both to have ESP and to be the reincarnation of an 18th-century English society lady who drowned in a shipwreck, was an obsessive mess. As a result, the show closed in 1966 after an eight-month run and has never been successfully revived in its original form. The film version, which came out in 1970, didn’t do much better, while a 2011 Broadway revival, for which Peter Parnell wrote a brand-new book of the utmost ineptitude, was a well-deserved flop.
Enter Charlotte Moore, artistic director of the Irish Repertory Theatre, who loves “On a Clear Day” but is fully aware of its problems and has endeavored to solve them in her new small-scale revival, in which she has revised Lerner’s book without altering it beyond recognition, ruthlessly scissoring away superfluous characters and dialogue…
The result of Ms. Moore’s handiwork is a miniature musical of tremendous charm whose plot suggests a cross between “Vertigo” and “Arcadia.” While the results aren’t perfect—some of the second-act plot points don’t land as clearly as they might—her “On a Clear Day” works much more than well enough to make the show viable at last, and every other aspect of the production is completely successful….
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To read my review of 42nd Street, go here.
To read my review of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, go here.
The trailer for the Irish Rep’s revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever: