Burning up ’42nd Street’ with tap shoes, at Bucks County Playhouse

The cast members of

The cast members of "42nd Street" at Bucks County Playhouse, tapping their way through "We're in the Money." (Photo courtesy of Mark Garvin)

The dynamic “42nd Street” is one of musical theater’s great tap-dance shows, and the Bucks County Playhouse production celebrates it — and then some.

The dancing’s so hot that if you see “42nd Street” – which is in it’s last week of performances – leave your matches or butane in your car.

I finally caught up with the show, which has lots of well-deserved audience buzz, and I’m still smiling. I’ve seen some energetic regional productions of “42d Street” over the years, and this one out-taps them all. To top it off, even the show’s stock characters — who themselves are trying to put on a show — come off as fresh and real.

The sparkling production from director Hunter Foster is the storied Playhouse’s largest undertaking since it was renovated and reopened six years ago. From what I’ve seen, it’s also the classiest, with Nicole V. Moody’s knockout costumes that seem to change with every scene; scenery by Broadway designer Anna Louizos set against large-scale curtains; and breathless choreography by Jeremy Dumont that rivals the original by Gower Champion.

Maybe “breathless” is the wrong word for the dancing — the cast of about two dozen tears up the stage with smiles, deceptive ease, and not a hint of perspiration. (I thought I’d sweat just watching as the aggressive dancing washed across the stage, as natural as the weather.) Bart Fasbender’s crisp sound design enhances the evening — did he find a way to amplify the tapping, which reverberates through the theater? Even if he did, these dancers wouldn’t need much help to make their feet known.

“42nd Street” features a score by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, including original songs for the show and some of their best-known music written for others. Because the show is about people trying desperately to put on a Broadway show, there’s plenty of room for numbers that come out of nowhere — they’re supposed to be snippets from the show the cast is attempting. One of these, “We’re in the Money” (“42d Street” is set at the Great Depression), is an eye-popping tap-dance delight and another, “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” is stylishly sweet. If you’re in the same sort of audience I was, you’ll notice hoots of approval growing with each big production number. The come-hither song “42d Street” is the first and last of these, without lyrics at the beginning of the show when the dancers are rehearsing, and given the full-blown treatment at the end.

Tessa Grady plays the woman from Allentown who barges into the theater looking for a job in a new musical called “Pretty Lady” and, after charming the rest of the cast, gets one. Grady is a force on stage — a dynamic dancer and robust singer who easily makes her character stand out when it’s necessary and retreat when it’s not.

That character, Peggy Sawyer, has wooers — “Pretty Lady’s” big-voiced tenor (the versatile Blakely Slaybaugh) and, more subliminally, the “Pretty Lady” director, an imperious man played by Matt Walton. Peggy also has a stage nemesis, a star named Dorothy Brock, brought in to fill the seats and also because her sugar-daddy is the big “Pretty Lady” backer. Miss Brock is played with perfect star attitude by the powerful singer Linda Balgord; Cliff Bemis is the backer and Patrick Oliver Jones plays Miss Brock’s not-so-secret boy-toy.

To a person, the supporting cast members also shine, and the show — some of it is set in Philly — shines along with them. When they beckon you to “come and meet those dancing feet,” dance your own right over.

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“42nd Street” runs through August 4 at Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope. 215-862-2121 or bcptheater.org.

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