A few minutes into the opening night performance of The Lexington Theatre Company’s 42nd Street, Tony Award-winner Karen Ziemba took the stage to a hearty round of applause — a true Broadway ‘star entrance’ here in Lexington, Kentucky.
But I like to think some of the applause was for the man trailing her in a 10-gallon hat: Lexington theater legend Robert Parks Johnson playing Abner Dillon to Ziemba’s Dorothy Brock.
Ziemba and her Broadway brethren Darien Crago (Peggy Sawyer), Matthew Shepard (Julian Marsh) and Nicolas Dromard (Billy Lawlor) are the marquee stars of the production, which closes Sunday afternoon, and they all gave knockout performances. The show itself is everything Herald-Leader critic Candace Chaney and others on Facebook are saying: a spectacular show that is a real game changer in terms of what is possible in Lexington theater productions.
The thing that had me grinning ear-to-ear several times Thursday night was that local talents like Johnson were a part of it. In a small role, he made an effective and fun transition from the oil baron intent on supporting the woman with whom he had misplaced his affection to the oil baron who supports the dreams of an entire young company.
What an appropriate role for a local to play.
Maybe the biggest delight was seeing Rachel Snyder, the leading lady of University of Kentucky musical theater the last few years, coming in and owning much of this show in the comic role as writer and producer Maggie Jones. If there were any nerves or intimidation in Snyder, they did not show as she seized the part played opposite fellow UK alum Michael Sheehy, as writer-producer Bert Barry.
Many actors leave college hoping they can hold their own in major productions in New York and elsewhere. Thanks to The Lexington Theatre Company, Snyder and Sheehy know that they can go share a stage with Broadway veterans and some of the best new talents in the business and distinguish themselves, here or anywhere.
And liberally scattered in the ensemble were talents from Central Kentucky and regional colleges, snapped into a chorus line worthy of Broadway, precise and expressive, in just two weeks.
In the past, I have traveled to experience moments like that. One I distinctly remember was going to New York in 2007 to see Lyndy Franklin perform in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, in which she also served as dance captain. Going through some old clips a few weeks ago, I was reminded that the first time I profiled Lyndy, a Lexington native and Sayre School graduate, was in 2003 when she came through the Opera House on a national tour of Fosse.
Thursday, Lyndy Franklin Smith was in the house, running the show as co-director of the 42nd Street, artistic director of the company and co-founder with her husband, Jeromy Smith, company production director and co-director of the show.
None of this is to take anything away from Lexington-area community, semi-professional and non-Equity professional theaters that have been producing shows and treating area audiences to creative and captivating shows for decades.
The storyline of The Lexington Theatre Company and AthensWest Theatre Company, which launches its first season this fall, has been that they are bringing professional theater with performers under contract with Actors Equity (the stage actors union) to Lexington. But the subtext with 42nd Street is that from the top of the company to the ensemble, a lot of local talent is getting to play at an entirely new level for Lexington-produced theater.