WALTHAM — To the degree that it’s about anything, the unabashedly corny musical “42nd Street’’ is about a theatrical production that manages to overcome a sudden, unexpected calamity and achieves a triumph on opening night.
Talk about life imitating art. The Reagle Music Theatre production of “42nd Street,’’ which was forced into a hasty cast replacement when leading man Tom Wopat was arrested the day before the show’s first performance, is a knockout.
This exuberant and dynamic “42nd Street’’ furnishes a useful reminder that the success or failure of musicals often rests on contributions from across the board, not on a single glittering star, although the production does feature one of the brightest around: Rachel York.
But special kudos should rightfully be distributed to the young ensemble, who sing and dance as if their lives depend upon it, from the explosive opening tap number to “Lullaby of Broadway’’ to the title tune. Mara Cecilia, a student at North Carolina’s Elon University, is a treat as Peggy Sawyer, the chorus girl thrust into a lead role in the show-within-a-show of “42nd Street.’’ And then there’s director Eileen Grace, who somehow maintained this production’s buoyant high spirits in the middle of what must have been the week from hell.
It’s doubtful than any production in the 49-year history of Reagle Music Theatre has ever opened with darker storm clouds swirling around it than this “42nd Street.’’ On Thursday, Wopat — a former star of “The Dukes of Hazzard’’ who shared top billing in “42nd Street’’ with York — was arraigned in Waltham District Court on charges of indecent assault and battery and cocaine possession.
According to a police report, Wopat allegedly grabbed the buttocks of a female “42nd Street’’ cast member during a rehearsal, which followed previous complaints from other performers about inappropriate touching and comments. When he was arrested Wednesday, police found what appeared to be cocaine in Wopat’s vehicle, according to the report. Wopat pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In the face of that backstage turmoil, the Reagle team appears to have tapped into the esprit de corps that is one of the themes of “42nd Street.’’ Not every scene of dialogue crackles as it should, but the show bursts to life whenever a big production number gets under way. Director Grace, collaborating with Susan M. Chebookjian, has skillfully recreated Gower Champion’s acclaimed choreography from the original Broadway production.
Wopat had been slated to play Julian Marsh, the hard-driving director who is whipping together a Broadway-bound musical called “Pretty Lady’’ during an out-of-town tryout in 1933. Reagle stalwart Rich Allegretto quickly stepped into the role. One could wish for more charisma from Allegretto, but the actor delivers a pretty solid performance under the circumstances. James Darrah is an asset as Billy Lawlor, a tenor who has eyes for Peggy.
York has fun with her imperious character, Dorothy Brock, an over-the-hill prima donna who is headlining “Pretty Lady.’’ Dorothy breaks her ankle during a performance when Peggy crashes into her after being bumped by another performer, and next thing you know, Peggy is being pushed into the lead role. That, of course, paves the way for Julian to utter those immortal words: “Peggy, you’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!’’
She delivers, big-time, and so, amid considerable adversity, does Reagle’s “42nd Street.’
Music by Harry Warren. Lyrics by Al Dubin. Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble.
Directed by Eileen Grace
Presented by Reagle Music Theatre, Waltham. Through Aug. 13. Tickets $37-$65. At: 781-891-5600, www.reaglemusictheatre.org
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.