From Times Square in 1980, ships in the 1910s, dance marathons in the 1930s, authenticity is certainly important to the new musicals on Broadway this season. To that end, the creators and designers of these shows are turning to experts in the field to provide factual information and local color. For Steel Pier, they turned to Vicki Gold Levi, a historical expert on Atlantic City in general, and the Pier specifically.
"I am the Atlantic City historical expert for the show," Levi told Playbill On-Line. She's more than just a native of A.C.; Levi's father, Al Gold, was chief photographer for A.C. for 35 years. "He photographed the first Miss America Pageant in 1921. I kind of grew up in the ballyhoo of the town. When I was five, I was the page to Bess Myerson's Miss America, and I had my own radio show ["Views By Vicki" on WMID]. I also used to dance on Steel Pier on Tony Grant's Stars Of Tomorrow children's talent show."
"When I grew up, my interest was revived in Atlantic City," Levi continued, "so I co-authored the book, `Atlantic City: 125 Years Of Ocean Madness,' with Lee Eisenberg, former editor of Esquire magazine." The 1979 book, with hundreds of photographs, is still in print, reprinted by Ten Speed Press recently. Levi also Co-founded of the Atlantic City Historical Museum, a free public museum on Garden Pier "devoted to chronicling the rich history of this one of-a -kind resort." Levi now lives in New York but got connected to Steel Pier through working with the rojection designer, Wendall K. Harrington for historical pictures ( Having Our Say). "She referred me to Scott Ellis on this project."
How has Levi's research helped build the Broadway Pier? "I met with the cast early on last summer and gave them an overview of Atlantic City at that time. They were very enthusiastic and wanted to soak up the knowledge of the era. I also gave historical image research to Tony Walton and whoever needed historical documentation or had questions to ask. They wanted the show to be very authentic. I spoke about Atlantic City icons, such as Fralinger's Salt Water Taffy, the high diving horse of the early 1930s (there's a set for that in the show) and Mr. Peanut. Atlantic City had the first boardwalk, the first wicker `rolling chair.'"
Says Levi, "Steel Pier, which juts half a mile out into the sea, will be 100 years old in 1998. It was a place of great dance contests and flagpole sitters and entertainers -- anything was possible."
On opening night of Steel Pier the musical, Levi's attending the show with Atlantic City's Mayor, James Whelan, and his wife, as well as A.C. Lifeguard Chief Bob Levy and his wife. Both men were lifeguards together in their younger days -- at Steel Pier -- "and they still take their rowing sessions almost every day at 7 AM."