A time-warping portal has opened and a legendary period in theater history has been brought back to life on the coast of Maine. The Ogunquit Playhouse has opened a production of “42nd Street,” the 1980 musical based on the 1933 film about old-fashioned showbiz dreams coming true.

The backstage story of the rookie performer whose big break comes when the star of a new musical is injured just hours before opening night is full of classic numbers performed by dozens of talented singers and dancers. The show lets you know that it’s in on some of its cornier elements. But it still goes all-out to provide a highly entertaining couple of hours at the venerable Playhouse.

The cast of “42nd Street” at the Ogunquit Playhouse. Photo by Gary Ng

Jessica Wockenfuss plays Peggy Sawyer, the naïve wannabe from Allentown, Pa., who literally runs into director Julian Marsh, played by Steve Blanchard, on the rehearsal stage.  The show he’s working on is being produced by the “sugar daddy” of veteran star Dorothy Brock, played by Rachel York. Peggy gets to briefly demonstrate her spectacular skills at tap dancing before being first wooed then shooed away by various characters trying to score a date but also get the show ready.

Wockenfuss sparkles in exuding the youthful energy of Peggy. She adds a period stylization to her vocals, as do several of the performers, but convinces on such song and dance numbers as “We’re in the Money” and the title tune. It wouldn’t be surprising if a few audience members are inspired to try some tapping at home after seeing this young whirlwind do her thing.

York is a luminous presence as the attention-demanding diva of the show-within-the-show. As her character begins to reveal more of a sensitive side, York lends her considerable star power to such numbers as “I Only Have Eyes For You” and “About a Quarter to Nine,” the latter in duet with Wockenfuss.

Blanchard gives an arch tone to his patriarchal director but comes down to earth on the sweet and sentimental “Lullaby of Broadway.” The theme of the old guard versus a new generation runs through the show and his Julian brings it home in his reprise of that song at the close.

Comedy relief comes from a source by now familiar to Ogunquit audiences. Sally Struthers plays the motherly songwriter Maggie Jones. The TV legend pops in and out of several scenes, adding a little song and dance and a lot of laughs as she, once again, has a lot of fun with a ready-made role.

Jake Weinstein, Megan McLaughlin, Kilty Reidy, Con O’Shea-Creal, Cliff Bemis and Ryan K Bailer bring personality to their song-and-dance moments and the entire cast builds excitement on show-stopping numbers that include dancing on giant coins, up and down steep stairs and across the ceiling (by virtue of large mirrors lowered from above).

The costumes, from elegant to slightly risqué, are eye-catching. The set pieces, scrims and lighting serve to establish the theater world of the show. The musical accompaniment adds period touches and the choreography by Randy Skinner, who also directs, blends chorus line fervor with hints of ballet and modern and, of course, lots and lots of tap.

It’s a show that obviously holds the original thrill and wonder of musical theater close to its heart.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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