In the opening moments of The Lexington Theater Company's 42nd Street, the jewel-red velvet curtain draping the Opera House stage raised just high enough for the audience to peek at two dozen pairs of dancing feet lined up in a row, teasing the audience with a glimpse of what was to come — a high-octane, high-quality evening of musical theater where dance itself is the surprising star.
The company might well have been following the advice sung by recent University of Kentucky alumna Rachel Marie Snyder's character in the number Go Into Your Dance.
"Just strut your stuff and they can't ignore us," Snyder croons with panache while spiritedly portraying Maggie Jones, a fictional Broadway writer and producer.
With sweeping dance numbers performed on a Broadway-sized scale (big, epic, go-for-it explosions of glittery, tap-shoed strutting), charismatic performances by actual Broadway stars performing alongside local stars, and technical excellence in scenic, lighting and costume design, the company's inaugural production ushers in a new era of possibility for theater in Lexington.
The show is a love letter to Broadway and specifically the musical comedy, which real-life Broadway veteran Matthew Shepard wistfully calls "the two most beautiful words in the English language" in his role as legendary director Julian Marsh.
Marsh is hoping his production of Pretty Lady, a new Broadway show, will help him recover from financial losses he suffered in the Great Depression. Its success hinges on its star, Dorothy Brock (played with diva smoothness by Tony-Award winner Karen Ziemba), a bona fide Broadway grande dame who hopes the show will restore her former glory.
Then there's the naive young upstart Peggy Sawyer (Darien Crago) from Allentown, Pa., who breaks into show business by literally bumping into the right people.
Crago conveys a youthful, star-struck sense of small-town wonder as her character grapples with life in the big leagues and is a striking foil for Ziemba, whose legendary Brock lacks the dance talent of Sawyer but has the pipes and poise to carry a show and captivate an audience, which is evident in Ziemba's velvety rendering of I Only Have Eyes for You.
When Brock is injured and Sawyer tapped to replace her, we are treated to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of her transformation into a star. We are also treated to Crago's impressive tap-dancing skills in wildly energetic, foot-stomping numbers like 42nd Street. Her character's co-star, the flirtatious tenor Billy Lawler (played with mischief and verve by Nicolas Dromard), also wows the audience with his intricate 1930s-style tap moves.
The pair are not the only dancers who shine, as the chorus line drew many spontaneous rounds of applause from the audience during epic numbers like the flashy green and silver sendup to Broadway opulence — and profit — in I'm In the Money.
Co-directors and company co-founders Jeromy Smith and Lindy Franklin Smith successfully revived the magic of 1930s Broadway, particularly the sense of hope and triumph and dreams that both their fictional and actual cast work so hard to realize in such a short amount of time.
Judging by the opening night standing ovation, it's work that pays off.