Act I of this musical about an Atlantic City dance marathon in 1993 ends with one of the lesser-known but more grueling challenges of the old marathons: the marathoners change into running clothes (Debra Monk's character describes the outfits as making them looks like "we escaped from clown jail") and sprint around the dance floor. After more than 200 hours of dancing the ordeal is designed to weed out the weakest.
The leading man (McDonald) has just performed a minor feat of magic and kept his partner (Karen Ziemba) on her feet. As the curtain falls, the audience sees the exhausted dancers stumbling around the floor -- but our heros are still standing.
Switching perspective to the wing, as the curtain falls, the dancers have only begun their marathon. They rise and dash for the stairs leading up to the dressing rooms. They have just a few minutes to change for the big "Leave the World Behind" number that opens Act II. Because storage space is at such a premium in the cramped Richard Rodgers Theatre backstage, the stagehands don't wait for all the dancers to clear the stage. The bunk beds from an earlier scene are stacked, secured, attached to a skyhook and suddenly winched up into the recesses of the fly space.
A rustling fills the air like autumn in April. From the lower levels of the theatre comes a battalion of wardrobe people carrying William Ivey Long's wacky costumes for the Act II "Cellophane Wedding" sequence, in which the women wear elaborate outfits made entirely of crackly cellophane.
As the opening night audience sips cocktails, pops M&Ms and grabs cigarettes in the lobby and street below, upstairs the dancers frantically exchange their Act I costumes for their Act II costumes -- there being no room for everything in the tight dressing rooms, some of them up several steep and very narrow stairways.
Zippers zip, mutual buttonings are thanked for, and it's places for Act I. It's the Steel Pier marathon that only the cast and stage hands ever get to see.