By Kenneth Jones
26 Mar 2002
Audiences across North America will get an eyeful beginning August 2002, when the producers of the hit revised Broadway revival of 42nd Street spawn its national tour at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, MO.
Dodger Theatricals is working with Actors' Equity toward the goal of making the tour a union show, according to an Equity statement and a spokesperson for the show. It had been rumored that the tour might be non-union, like the current tour of the Dodgers' The Music Man. "We feel confident that it's going to [be Equity]," said a production source. In a statement on the Equity website, union president Patrick Quinn said he was "cautiously optimistic that a contract will be reached."
The musical inspired by the Depression-era film of the same name and filled with hit songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin was one of the smashes of Broadway history, opening in 1980 and running more than 3,000 performances. This newly revived version is directed by the co-librettist, Mark Bramble, and choreographed by the show's original tap creator, Randy Skinner. (Gower Champion directed and choreographed the original staging and died the same day the show opened.)
But this is not your mother's 42nd Street. New song sequences ("Keep Young and Beautiful," "With Plenty of Money and You") have been added, the jazz-tap ballet at the climax has been changed, a new entrance has been created for chorus girl Peggy Sawyer when she makes a star splash in Pretty Lady, and audiences on Broadway have been surprised to see massive mirrors appear above the performers, offering a Busby Berkeley-style view of the dance patterns. A gigantic staircase also appears at the end of the show on Broadway.
The original creative team is working on the national touring production, including Bramble, Skinner and designers Douglas W. Schmidt (set), Roger Kirk (costumes) and Paul Gallo (lighting), a tour spokesperson said. As is the case with many tours, some physical elements of the New York show may be downsized to fit in touring houses. The Broadway home of 42nd Street, the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, has a large stage house to accommodate many bells and whistles.
Scattered dates for the (at least) yearlong tour have been announced in individual markets, including Cincinnati's Aronoff Center Sept. 10-22, Columbus' Ohio Theatre Nov. 12-17, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, April 29-May 4, 2003, and Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theatre May 21-June 8, 2003.
No casting has been announced for the national tour.
One of the most famous opening images in Broadway musical history earned cheers and applause May 2, 2001, when the curtain slowly rose to reveal an army of 37 hoofers tapping and stamping their feet in 42nd Street at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts on Broadway.
The curtain ascends to reveal the entire stage picture, of course, but the striking first image — the vigorous pairs of feet at the Broadway chorus audition in 1933 — reveals everything that's to come in the backstage musical: Sweat, drive, hard work, enthusiasm, rhythm and precision. In short, "those dancing feet."
The new revival, directed by the show's co-librettist, Mark Bramble, began previews April 4 at the Ford Center, which has entrances on both 42nd Street and 43rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
Fans of the smash musical, 42nd Street, can rest easy that director Bramble did not tear up and repave the 1980 musical comedy in a way that made the Broadway revival dark, brooding or conceptual. It has been rethought, and slightly revised, however. Choreographer Randy Skinner said about two-thirds of the choreography is all new, and there is a tap curtain call finale on top of it all.
Prior to the opening, Bramble told Playbill On-Line the show has always been "a true valentine to musical comedy," and it can't support the sort of dark vision of, say, Cabaret or Chicago. "We're not making it dark," Bramble said. "The film is a melodrama, and the novel is darker yet. In fact, it will be more colorful."
Skinner noted the show offers more flesh than in the past — designer Roger Kirk has two-piece costumes for the girls in the "We're in the Money" sequence, for example.
Bramble co-wrote the book with Michael Stewart (who died in 1987) and directed the London premiere. He also staged a reconceived version in Holland in 2000. That show was the template for this production, though there are new bells and whistles for this Broadway staging. The Holland producer Joop van den Ende is one of the producers of the New York revival and encouraged the creative team to think big.
"Everything technical has changed in these last 20 years," Bramble said. "We have an entirely new physical production, using all of the modern technology available today."
Bramble said the standard-packed Harry Warren-Al Dubin score of the show is intact (though some songs are assigned to different characters) and two songs ("Keep Young and Beautiful" and "With Plenty of Money and You") have been added. "I Only Have Eyes for You" is also part of the score, as it was on Broadway ("I Know Now" was also part of the original run, before it was replaced by "I Only Have Eyes For You").
David Merrick produced the splashy original production in 1980, and it ran more than eight years. It won the 1981 Tony for Best Musical. The revival of 42nd Street is produced by Dodger Theatricals, Joop van den Ende and Stage Holding. The original run played 3,486 performances.