We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Duck into the National Theatre for a taste of what it was like when bread lines, not orange alerts, kept the miserable masses in need of escapist entertainment. Mind you, the musical 42nd Street, set in 1933 and based in part on the film from that year, first hit the stage in 1980, a time when anyone with enough for a theater ticket was surely feeling no economic pinch. Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book offers a few retro-humor winks—”They’re payin’ four-forty a seat out there!” fusses writer Maggie Jones (Patti Mariano)—and a dubiously mod ambiguous ending, but, really, the script doesn’t matter. Forget all but the bare bones of the plot: Small-town dreamer Peggy Sawyer (Catherine Wreford) gets her big break on Broadway. That’s it—you’re really there to meet those dancing feet. Randy Skinner has adapted Gower Champion’s original choreography to offer large-scale glamour within the confines of a traveling production; the sight of 30-odd pairs of legs high-kicking and ball-changing is so invigorating that it’s as if you’re watching a cast of thousands. The dancers are speedy, spunky, and precise in that pre-Bob Fosse way, especially Wreford, whose vigorous shuffle step is like something Thumper would do if Thumper were a cuddly chorine. (Not that they’re not sexy as well: After viewing a stageful of bare-legged dancing coins in “We’re in the Money,” my friend Karen purred, “I’ve never seen so much liposuction in one place at one time.”) They can sing, too, especially when wave after wave of cast groupings arrive at the train station and break into “Lullaby of Broadway” to dissuade Peggy from returning to Allentown. Still, you could be earless and enjoy the production, particularly for the contributions of lighting director Paul Gallo and costumer Roger Kirk. The opening image is perhaps the most arresting: The curtain rises to reveal, for just a few moments, only a row of tapping feet, then a roomful of fresh-scrubbed chorus kids bathed in Easter-egg pastels. Later, an ingeniously lit and choreographed “Shadow Waltz” mocks diva Dorothy Brock (the elegantly angular Blair Ross) by making her literally larger than life. And the production numbers in the play-within-the-play Pretty Lady are hilariously over the top, with chorus girls and boys twirling in drop-dead raspberry and vermilion or arrayed in a spectrum of picture hats that make them look like a shelf of Fiesta plates. The glorious excess of “We’re in the Money,” in which the term “turning on a dime” is taken to its extreme, must have had Reagan-era audiences salivating all over their Halstons. These days, it’s even more appealing to turn off CNN and loll around in director Bramble’s glitzy dreamland for a few hours.—Pamela Murray Winters