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A new theater company announcing 42nd Street as its first show makes a statement that can be freely translated as, “We’re not messing around.”
The 1980 Tony Award winner for best musical is a huge production that hangs on precision dancing, bright acting and crack musicianship. It’s no small order for a new troupe.
The concert, featuring Broadway stars Laura Bell Bundy, Mara Davi and Jonathan Groff and an ensemble of college and recently graduated triple threats, ran nearly three hours, but it was entertaining enough to barely notice, and some of the highlights came from unexpected quarters.
The evening featured five-song showcases by each of the headliners, who each brought their own distinctive flavors to the evening. Lexington-native Bundy delivered songs from some of her landmark shows, starting with Heart from Damn Yankees, her senior musical at Lexington Catholic High School. The centerpiece of her set was an “influences” medley, featuring formative shows and artists for Bundy including The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz (a spot-on Judy Garland impression) and Tina Turner’s Proud Mary.
Bundy pointed out that her career started on the Opera House stage playing a mouse in the Lexington Ballet’s Nutcracker when she was 4 and continuing through the years. Now with several Broadway roles and a Tony Award-nomination to her credit, the concert was a chance for her to perform some of her career’s greatest hits on her home stage.
She opened the evening and Groff closed it with a set that showed the Tony nominated star of Spring Awakening, Frozen, Glee, Looking and other film and stage roles to be a consummate entertainer, hitting the stage with a swinging rendition of Movin’ Too Fast from The Last Five Years and moving renditions of songs from Spring Awakening and Annie Get Your Gun. But we will most remember him and local talent Darian Sanders leading the ensemble in Hair, the title tune from the musical the University of Kentucky Theatre will present later this spring, and him pulling a member of the audience, Shelby from Nicholasville, on stage for his Glee medley. Groff told Shelby she was standing in for Glee star Lea Michele before giving her a Lea Michele sign, wig and serenading her with songs such as Hello and Total Eclipse of the Heart, in which he kept moving around and directed Shelby to “turn around.”
Davi was the least known quantity to much of the audience, but made a great first impression with a set highlighted by Disneyland, a song she wrote about her experience playing Cinderella at the theme part set to the tune of Beauty and the Beast‘s Belle — suffice to say, being a Princess isn’t as glamorous as you’d expect.
Like Bundy and Groff, Davi spoke to the importance of regional professional theaters like the one artistic director Lyndy Franklin Smith and producing director Jeromy Smith are creating, saying they support artists, communities and, she added, give performers such as her a chance to perform dream roles in shows that, “won’t be revived on Broadway for years, when I’m way too old to be in them.” Then, she said she had already made up a list and given it to the Smiths.
And that was what the whole evening was about, giving patrons a taste of the talent they plan to put on stage when the company launches in late July. And the concert showed there is plenty of talent beyond the marquee names. Recent University of Kentucky graduate Lindsey Austin may have drawn the biggest first-half ovation with her performance of The Wizard and I from Wicked, and Lafayette High School graduate and NYC resident Elliott Mattox burnished his triple-threat credentials with the hometown crowd in performances of I Can Do That and Extraordinary. Then there was locally-based talent Sanders going toe-to-toe with Groff in Hair.
The evening gave the impression the company can get the talent, and precedents such as the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s 2013 production of Les Miserables, in particular, indicate there is an audience in the area that will turn out for big musicals with talented young casts.
It doesn’t hurt that 42nd Street is a title that has not been produced by a local company, in recent memory, at least.
The selections in the show — winning numbers from recent shows including Beaches and The Bridges of Madison County — also showed artists who view American musicals as an active art form in the 21st Century, not a nostalgia act.
In The Lexington Theatre Company’s first presentation, there was a lot to like.