'42nd Street': Chase Away Blues With Upbeat Musical
Moore OnStage has the answer to chasing away those midwinter doldrums.
The group will present the song and dance extravaganza, "42nd Street," at Owens Auditorium at Sandhills Community College Jan. 28Feb. 1. The award-winning Broadway musical, based on a lavish 1933 movie, features spectacular dance routines.
A trio of talented specialists is guiding the singers and dancers who appear in the Moore OnStage production. Melvin Tunstall III is the director, Steven Menendez is the musical director, and Gary Taylor has provided the choreography.
Re-creating parts of the original choreography, Taylor has added new numbers and movements, as well as training the corps of 30 dancers over the course of the last three months. A two-time winner of the prestigious National Choreographic Award by the Regional Dance America Division of the Southeastern Ballet Association, Gary and his wife, Rita, occupy a prominent place in the regional dance scene with studios both in High Point and Pinehurst.
Known as one of the great "tap" shows, "42nd Street" tells the traditional story of a young woman from the chorus who saves the day by taking over for an injured leading lady. Among the well-known tunes in the score are "We're In the Money," and "Lullaby of Broadway."
Steven Menendez, who will also conduct a 10-piece band accompanying the singers and dancers, says "It's a terrific show. The music is familiar with a nice big band sound, and the ensemble of young dancers from the Taylor Dance Company have gotten a chance to add some great Broadway music to their experience."
This is the fifth time that Melvin Tunstall has been involved with a production of "42nd Street," having appeared in or directed the classic in Denver, Cincinnati, Florida and in the Triad region of North Carolina.
"The dancers from the Taylor Dance Company have worked so hard, and are just as professional as anyone with whom I have worked in other productions," he says.
"They are totally focused on their part in the show. I think our Sandhills audiences will be amazed by the quality of the tap dancing they will see."
A North Carolinian, Tunstall started performing with his family's band at a young age. Active in musical comedies all through high school, he trained at the Cincinnati Conservatory and stayed on to teach at the Conservatory after graduating.
Tunstall ultimately moved to New York and went on the road with a production of "Smokey Joe's Caf," before returning home to resume his interest in teaching and working with students.
He has kept an energetic schedule performing and directing with regional theaters throughout the Southeast, and most recently has been at the Blowing Rock Stage Company.
Later on this year, the Imperial Theatre in Rocky Mount is producing a musical that Tunstall has written. "Called 'Bloom,' I describe it as Melvin does Disney," Tunstall says. "It's a family-oriented show for which I have also written the music. It is going to be a collaborative effort using students from North Carolina Wesleyan College, Nash Community College, Barton College and two area high schools."
"42nd Street" is the Cinderella story of Broadway, Tunstall points out.
"I have personally seen the magic of an understudy turned into a star overnight," he says.
He mentions how a friend of his got her big chance in "Wicked."
"The actress playing The Wicked Witch of the West fell and hurt her back," he says. "My friend, who was the understudy, was given a quick spray painting of green and went on in her place."
In the Moore OnStage production of "42nd Street," the chorus girl who gets her big break is played by K. C. Holliday. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she graduated cum laude from Southern Methodist University before touring six continents as a singer/dancer aboard cruise ships. She also performed in shows at Six Flags Over Texas and on the Las Vegas Strip at The Venetian, The Paris, Planet Hollywood and Rio Hotel and Casinos.
A newcomer to Moore County, Holliday met and married her husband while in Las Vegas. He is career military, now stationed at Fort Bragg, and she teaches voice, flute and piano from their home in Southern Pines.
Some of her theater credits include Maria in "The Sound of Music" and Eliza in "My Fair Lady."
The role of Peggy Sawyer in "42nd Street" provided her with a challenge -- tap dancing.
"I have never been in a tap show or taken any tap lessons," she says. "My focus has always been on jazz and musical theater style of dancing. However, I am good at faking it. Seriously, though, I have gone to High Point on several occasions and worked with Gary for a whole day, and he has been wonderful in teaching me the basics."
"'42nd Street' is a blast -- a ton of fun," says Gary Taylor. "And I get to perform in the lead role of Billy. In a twist of the usual musical scenario, he doesn't get the girl, but he is a typical show guy, and it's a pleasure to play the part -- particularly since I don't have a lot of lines."
Taylor also took on the role of set designer for the production.
"We decided to use the stairwell as was done when the show was revived on Broadway in 2001, and the stairs get utilized as parts of other pieces of scenery when they are turned different ways," he says. "Pinehurst native Jeff Hufford, who is a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts and is master carpenter for technical theater productions, constructed the set."
The role of the dictatorial stage director in "42nd Street" is being performed by Ken Briggs. A radiologist at Womack Hospital at Fort Bragg, he's making his debut with Moore OnStage. Area theatergoers may recognize him as the Tin Man in the Cape Fear Regional Theatre production, "The Wizard of Oz." He's been seen in other CFRT productions of "Beauty and the Beast," "Ragtime," and as The Ringmaster in "Barnum," as well as appearing at Temple Theatre in several shows.
Cassandra Vallery, who delighted Moore OnStage audiences earlier this season with her portrayal of Maxene Andrews in "Sisters of Swing," plays Dorothy, the leading lady of the show within a show who's a prima donna, a bit past her prime. Vallery is another regular performer at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre.
Others in the cast are Randy Rime, as Dorothy's "sugar daddy" and producer of the show, Michael and Rebecca Jones, as the writers of the show, and as chorus girl Annie, Charity Haskins.
The rehearsal pianist and the stage manager have been perfectly type cast, and appearing in a duplication of their usual roles are MariJo Brown and Nick Dokich. Melvin Tunstall III has a cameo appearance as the dance captain.
Backstage duties for "42nd Street" are handled by Sarah Edwards, stage manager, with lighting design by David Dunford, and sound design by Extra Mile Audio.
Sponsors for the production are Boles Funeral Homes and Dogwood Dental -- Drs. Christine Gatti and Nanci Harp.
"42nd Street" will have just five performances -- from Wednesday, Jan. 28, through Saturday, Jan. 31, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 1, at 2 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 692-7118 or at the door, and are $20 for adults and $12 for students (18 and under).
Contact Pinehurst freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at email@example.com.
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