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Be sure to stop by '42nd Street'

Pacific Coast Rep celebrates the magic of musical theater with season opener

Andrew Mondello stars as Billy Lawlor with Jessica Maxey as Peggy Sawyer in the Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre's upcoming rendition of the famed Broadway musical "42nd Street." (Photo by Berenice Ku)

Cue the dancers. The new season for Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre kicks off next week with the Tony Award-winning musical, "42nd Street," at the Firehouse Arts Center.

"It's one of those shows that kind of whisks you away from your reality and puts you into this magical world of dancing and singing and big production numbers," director Joy Sherratt said.

The ultimate show-biz musical, "42nd Street" is a celebration of Broadway, Times Square and the people who make the magic of musical theater. Aspiring chorus girl Peggy Sawyer comes to the big city from Allentown, Penn., and soon lands her first big job in the ensemble of a glitzy new Broadway show, "The Pretty Lady." But just before opening night, the leading lady breaks her ankle. Will Peggy be able to step in and become the star?

Memorable songs include "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me," "Dames," "We're in the Money," "Lullaby of Broadway," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and "42nd Street."

PCRT began its run as the resident professional theater company for the Firehouse Arts Center in January 2011, soon after the venue opened, and has developed an enthusiastic fan base.

"We sold out all three of our productions all the way through last year," said founder David Judson, who is now artistic director. "Not one seat was available for any of our shows. The community and the region have definitely bought into the works we have done."

The company has produced a variety of musicals during the past six seasons, meeting the challenges -- even thriving on the challenges -- of adapting large Broadway extravaganzas to the smaller stage in the Firehouse Theater. And "42nd Street" will be no exception.

"We will actually have 26 cast members but traditionally it is done with about 40 people. It is a huge show," Sherratt said. "But we can only fit so many in that space."

She said they find the challenge exciting, especially with this iconic musical, and are, as much as possible, holding true to what renowned director Gower Champion did in the 1980 Broadway production. The show is based on the novel by Bradford Ropes and a 1933 Hollywood movie adaptation about putting on a Broadway show at the height of the Great Depression.

"We want to honor the time period of 1932-33," Sherratt said. "When Champion originally staged '42nd Street,' he paid homage to the time. ... Our country was in economic distress and the story has a lot to do with that, too. And it's about second chances and your big break."

The show also has special meaning for Sherratt because when she was living in New York and performing in the early 2000s, one of her good friends played Peggy Sawyer in a revival of the show.

"It is really a wonderful story line of this young girl who has a huge heart and really changes all of those around her by her tenacity, her willingness to go for it," Sherratt said. "And the tunes are so catchy. It is one of those shows that has all of the components."

Although the Firehouse Theater does not have a stage with a framed action area, one will be created for the play within the play.

"We are going to be creating a proscenium, not an easy task," Sherratt explained. "We will have big standing tall pillars to the right and left."

The crew will also project backgrounds to create different locations where the action is set.

"Now that technology has come a long way. Designers are beginning to use projection much more, especially in spaces like the Firehouse," Sherratt said.

The first thing the cast tackled was the major dance numbers.

"We wanted everyone to learn the music right away, to get the big, big production numbers learned because they take a lot of time," Sherratt said.

Firehouse regulars will recognize some of the leads in "42nd Street." Edward Hightower, who plays director Julian March, was the lead in last season's "My Fair Lady." Jessica Maxey portrays Peggy Sawyer. Andrew Mondello, who plays Billy Lawlor, is from Pleasanton; he left town to do his theater training but is now back in the area.

"We are excited to have his amazing talents, and he is also a native," Sherratt said.

Maria Mikheyenko plays Dorothy Brock, and Derek Travis Collard is Bert Barry.

Judson is pleased that PCRT is fulfilling its mission of using professionals and has added Brandy Mieszkowski as its new casting director. Music direction for "42nd Street" is by Brett Strader, and choreography by Suzanne Brandt.

"Our company is officially a professional theater, and each new season we're adding more and more Equity actors," Judson said.

This season, for the first time, one of the three productions will be a play rather than a musical. And all three offerings will feature a show within the show.

"This is super fun," Judson said.

The play, "Noises Off," will be onstage Jan. 27 to Feb. 11, followed by the Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical, "Rock of Ages," from April 28 to May 13.

"'Noises Off' is essentially a group of actors working together with the director hoping their show is going to make it," Judson said. "It is a comedy of errors -- crazy fast comedy."

In the second act, the set will revolve so the Firehouse audience gets to see the chaos backstage, he said. Then for the third act, the production is back facing the audience.

"A lot of the action backstage is happening onstage," Judson explained.

To add to the fun, Judson is directing "Noises Off," plus he portrays the director in the play. For rehearsals he plans to don a hat when he is director Judson so the crew and cast can know which part he is playing at any given moment.

"Rock of Ages" is about reviving a bar in the 1980s by holding a rock show, Judson said, and it is built around classic rock songs.

"It has all the typical show stoppers for that era," he noted. "Each of these shows features the show-stopping awesomeness that is Broadway."

But first in Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre's seventh season, "42nd Street" opens at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 4.

"It's one of those huge shows, for people of all ages to enjoy," Sherratt said. "I love that we can offer that."

Show-biz musical

What: "42 Street," music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer.

Who: Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre

Where: Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave.

When: Nov. 4-19. 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 17. Saturday matinees at 2 p.m., Nov. 11 and 18. Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Nov. 4, 11 and 18. Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., Nov. 5, 12 and 19.

Tickets: $19-$41. Go to www.firehousearts.org, call 931-4848, or purchase at the theater box office.

Inside the Show: Cast and crew will gather onstage to speak to the audience after the performance at 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 5.

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