42nd Street

Blake Stadnik as Billy Lawlor, center, and Company in "We’re in the Money" Photos by Joan Marcus and Chris Bennion Bookmark & Share

42nd Street "Taps" Into the 21st Century With Old-Fashioned Optimism

By Sheryl Flatow

 Tap dancing videos

The feeling of euphoria begins from the moment the curtain starts to rise on a stage full of tapping feet, and rarely lets go. 42nd Street may be a musical set during the Depression, but with inspired, dynamic choreography and a marvelous score that includes such standards as “Lullaby of Broadway,” "We’re in the Money," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me,” "I Only Have Eyes for You" and, of course, the title song, the show elicits nothing but pure delight.

So get ready to smile. A new production of 42nd Street, directed by Mark Bramble and choreographed by Randy Skinner—who also teamed on the Tony® Award-winning 2001 Broadway revival—comes to Segerstrom Hall from November 10 – 22. "It's a show that makes you feel good," says Bramble, co-author of the show with Michael Stewart. "People always want to see an affirmative, optimistic story."

42nd Street video

42nd Street is based on Bradford Ropes' novel of the same name, which was also the inspiration for the 1933 Warner Bros. movie starring Ruby Keeler. It tells a Cinderella story with a show biz twist, as aspiring hoofer Peggy Sawyer, fresh out of Allentown, PA, lands a job in a Broadway chorus, replaces the leading lady and becomes a star. The show includes the four full numbers written for the film by Al Dubin (lyrics) and Harry Warren (music), as well as about a dozen other songs from their catalog.

The original Tony Award-winning production was directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, who died in the early morning of August 25, 1980; the show opened that evening and ran for 3,486 performances. In 2001, just two years after the Broadway run ended, 42nd Street returned in a somewhat revised version and played 1,534 performances. That production provided the blueprint for the new tour.

"The 1980 production had a Warner Bros. feel, meaning muted and a little bit gritty," says Bramble. "It was spectacular, but it wasn't as colorful as I would have liked. When we did the revival, I said, 'Let's do the MGM Technicolor version.' This new production is a motion picture in living color, similar to the 2001 idea."

Skinner adds, "We recreated several numbers by Gower because his choreography is so definitive. But I also did some tweaking. For instance in 'We're in the Money,' a character named Billy Lawlor does a solo, and I always design a new solo around the skills of the actor playing that role. I also added more partnering and, at the request of the producer, a bigger finish to the '42nd Street' number.

Kaitlin Lawrence as Dorothy Brock and Blake Stadnik as Billy Lawlor in "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me."

"I did quite a bit of tweaking because when we did the 2001 production, the dancers were so much better than they were in 1980," he continues. "When we first did the show, tap had been out of favor for a long time. There had been something of a resurgence in 1971 with No, No, Nanette, but 42nd Street was the show that really brought it back. It was very hard to find people that could tap at the level we wanted for the original production. In 2001, we had a whole new generation of dancers who could tap brilliantly, so I added more challenging steps."

The touring production includes three numbers that were added in 2001: "I Only Have Eyes for You," "Keep Young and Beautiful" and "With Plenty of Money and You." Skinner’s choreography for "Keep Young and Beautiful" is a tribute to Busby Berkeley, known for his kaleidoscopic numbers in the 42nd Street film and other Depression era, Warner Bros. musicals.

The Company of 42nd Street in "Lullaby of Broadway."

Skinner, who worked as an assistant to Champion on the original production, found the experience invaluable. "It was joyful to be in a room with Gower," he says, "and it was also an education that you couldn't buy. The biggest lesson was learning how to shape an entire show, and then learning how to shape each number. When you're doing a musical, you have to think about the choreographic arc from the beginning to the end so that you don't peak too soon. You have to space the numbers accordingly. But within each number there also has to be an arc and a build, and that's not always easy to find. It takes a lot of trial and error. To watch Gower work and see his thought process was a huge learning experience."

He learned well. "After Carla Champion, Gower's widow, saw the 2001 revival, she wrote me a beautiful letter saying that Gower would be so pleased," Skinner says. "I felt good about that because Gower and I had had many long talks, and we were going to do another show together. Then, of course, history intervened. He was always looking for the new thing, and always looking to change and perfect. So I felt that I kept the flame going, but also helped give audiences a new experience. And I think Gower would approve."

Sheryl Flatow is a frequent contributor to Center publications.

 

SEGERSTROM HALL
Dates: November 10 – 22, 2015
Tickets: $29 and up
For tickets and information, visit SCFTA.org
or call (714) 556–2787.
Group services: (714) 755–0236

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The Center Applauds:
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Media Partner:
Time Warner Media

 

     

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