Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Beat of Dancing Feet

It's not summer in Richmond without a trip to the Dell.

The combination of perfect weather and opening night for "42nd Street" was cause enough for a picnic at Dogwood Dell with a friend.

Claiming it had been 20 years since she'd last been to the city's annual summer Festival of the Arts, she nonetheless knew to pack a picnic cloth, chair and corkscrew.

It's like riding a bike. You never really forget how it's done.

Of course, there's also the little matter of house rules such as no glass and no alcoholic beverages, so we just thought of our Le Petit Rouviere Rose as pink grape juice and drank it out of plastic cups while munching on sandwiches and salads.

The evening's emcee greeted us with, "Let's talk about this weather. This doesn't happen very often in July." It was nice enough that I'd brought a sweater and beach towel to keep me warm once it got dark (and needed both).

Unfortunately, beautiful weather and absence of humidity did not eliminate the bugs, though, so we slathered on bug spray and gave props to those around us who'd been clever enough to bring big citronella candles to burn (note to self).

Once again, I was at a play as a first-timer. I'd neither seen the original 1933 film or the 1980 play of "42nd Street." Hell, I hadn't even known that movie musicals ever got made into plays. Idiot.

So you can imagine how dazzling the opening number was to this newbie, with 30-some tap dancers creating a Busby Berkley-like spectacle right there on the Dell stage.

I'll put it this way: it was everything I thought "42nd Street" would be in one number. Not to mention how gratifying it is to see a play with that many female roles in it.

And speaking of my people, most of the costumes were on point, evoking both 1933 and the way chorus girls dressed in rehearsal. All except one anyway.

For some reason, one actress wore her blouse outside of her skirt instead of tucked in, something no woman in the '30s would have done unless she was cleaning house or working on a farm. It looked totally out of place next to all the other women and their cinched waisted ensembles.

So much of the dialogue was funny, such as an exchange between members of the chorus about men.

What is it about tenors that makes them wolves?
Must be all that tight underwear they wear.
No, that's what makes them tenors.

Despite my "42nd Street" virgin status, I soon discovered I knew many of the songs from it - "We're in the Money," "Lullaby of Broadway," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and, of course, the title song.

But you could have knocked me over with a feather when the prima donna character, Dorothy, began singing "I Only Have Eyes for You," one of my all-time favorite songs.

Turns out that's a song written by Warren and Dubin, the talent behind all the songs in "42nd Street," although not part of the 1933 film version.

So there I was, lucky enough to be at Dogwood Dell sipping Rose, listening to one of my all-time favorite romantic songs with stars twinkling above me. My smile was as wide as our picnic blanket.

While that may have been the musical high point for me, make no mistake, I enjoyed every minute of the colorful spectacle that was "We're in the Money."

I don't think I was the only one, either, because at intermission (at almost 10:00) almost no one in the capacity crowd left. Even the pre-teen boys in the chairs next to me seemed enthralled.

Given all the hoofing and high kicking, it could have been that they were leg men. Maybe they were first timers at Dogwood Dell.

Or maybe they were just as enthralled with getting to see a free production under the stars of a big, glitzy musical, complete with chorus girls, set at the height of the Depression.

Goodness knows I was.

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