Come and meet those dancin' feet," goes the line from the famous title tune of the Broadway musical, 42nd Street. Never mind meeting the feet. At a March 7 press preview of the new Broadway production of the classic show-within-a-show, you could feel the dancin' feet, as 40 plus tapping hoofers literally shook the seventh floor of Radio City Music Hall.
Director and co-author Mark Bramble said that 42nd Street, due to begin previews April 4 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, would boast the biggest cast on Broadway: 55 people in all, most of them armed with tap shoes. Bramble emphasized that the new mounting — which comes roughly two decades after producer David Merrick's original version opened at the Winter Garden Theatre — would have a completely new look and be "the most beautiful and sexiest show on Broadway."
It will certainly be the loudest and dancing-est. The preview began with the "Audition" number, in which a crowd of hopeful tappers, tested by dance captain Andy Lee (played by Michael Arnold), try to make the cut for the big new show to be directed by the powerful Julian Marsh. The number segued into a comic scene introducing Mary Testa and Jonathan Freeman (in owlish Alexander Woollcott glasses) as Maggie Jones and Bert Barry, the writers and producers of something called "Pretty Lady."
Soon after, actress Kate Levering, in a brief mint-colored dress and carrying a suitcase bigger than herself, entered as wishful and naive starlet Peggy Sawyer. She and David Elder, as Billy Lawler, one of the theatre's "better juveniles," then sang "Young and Healthy." Though Sawyer is late for the audition, Lawler coaxes her into singing her way into Lee's heart. But she only succeeds in running smack into Julian Marsh (Michael Cumpsty, imperious in a leather jacket, and a long way from the physics and moral quandaries of Copenhagen).
Accompanied by Billy Stritch (who is Oscar, the on-stage pianist), Christine Ebersole, the show's leading lady Dorothy Brock, sang a quiet, understated rendition of "I Only Have Eyes for You." After that, however, it was back to tap-dancing and more tap-dancing. Bramble talked about the production of 42nd Street he opened in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, last year. "One problem in that show is that at the end the audience wanted more dancing and more tapping. We decided to put in a number, which [choreographer] Randy [Skinner] has created. We called it the Tap Mega-mix." Levering proceeded to lead the cast in an extended bout of hoofing. After that, the cast sang a few bars from "The Lullaby of Broadway."
For Ebersole — who, between The Best Man and Encores!' A Connecticut Yankee, has worked consistently this season — 42nd Street marks her first Broadway musical since 1985's Harrigan and Hart. Much of the reason for that gap is her departure for Los Angeles six months after the latter show. Recently, however, she and her family moved to New York after 14 years on the West coast, and she's happy to be back. "There's nothing like a musical," she enthused, "the overture and the kids out there tapping. Musical theatre is really `its-ville.'"
Asked if it was difficult going from the high drama of Copenhagen to the show-biz histrionics of 42nd Street, Cumpsty observed that the characters of physicist Werner Heisenberg and Julian Marsh are "not that different. [Marsh] is insanely passionate about what he does, often to the detriment of the people around him."
Cumpsty saw the original 42nd Street many times and was excited about being part of the new mounting. He admitted to some nervousness about the singing requirements, but found, to his surprise, that Copenhagen had partially prepared him for his new role. "There was so much text [in Copenhagen, and we had to do it fast. I think I retrained my diaphragm in a way singers have to train their diaphragm."
Also present at the preview were cast members Mylinda Hull, Richard Muenz and Allen Fitzpatrick. 42nd Street will officially open on May 2.