Broadway

42nd Street

A 42nd Street sign at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in New York City

A hit jukebox musical, 42nd Street is based on the 1932 novel by Bradford Ropes and its 1993 Hollywood film adaptation that focuses on the efforts of famed dictatorial Broadway director Julian Marsh to launch a successful stage production of a musical extravaganza during the height of the Great Depression. This all-singing and all-tapping musical performance includes a cast of about 60 people.

42nd Street is a show with a book by Michael Stewart, Mark Bramble, music by Harry Warren, and lyrics by Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer. The Broadway production, which opened in 1980, was produced by David Merrick, directed by Gower Champion, and orchestrated by Philip J. Lang.

In addition to songs from the 42nd Street film (1993), it includes songs that Dubin and Warren wrote for other films at the time. The musical featured iconic songs such as “Lullaby of Broadway,” “42nd Street,” “We’re in the Money,” and “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

Production History

David Merrick took a huge gamble with his $3 million production. He did it because he felt that the audiences are ready to embrace the nostalgia craze started by successful Broadway revivals of Irene, No, No, Nanette, and Very Good Eddie.

Original Broadway production

The musical premiered in out-of-town tryouts in June 1980 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. It opened on Broadway on August 1980 at the Winter Garden Theatre. It moved to Majestic to make way for Cats, and then moved to St. James to accommodate The Phantom of the Opera. It closed after 3,486 performances in January 1989. The original cast included:

  • Wanda Richert as Peggy Sawyer
  • Lee Roy Reams as Billy Lawlor
  • Tammy Grimes as Dorothy Brock
  • Jerry Orback as Julian Marsh
  • Carole Cook as Maggie Jones
  • Joseph Bova as Bert Barry
  • Danny Carroll as Andy Lee
  • James Congdon as Pat Denning
  • Don Crabtree as Abner Dillon
  • Stan Page as Mac
  • Karen Pruczik as Ann Reilly
  • Ginny King as Lorraine Flemming
  • Jeri Kansas as Phyllis Dale
  • Robert Colston as Oscar

The opening night triumph was overshadowed by a tragedy, as director Gower Champion died hours before the performance.

West End production

The West End production of 42nd Street opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on August 1984. It starred:

  • Clare Leach as Peggy Sawyer
  • Michael Howe as Billy Lawlor
  • Georgia Brown as Dorothy Brock
  • James Laurenson as Julian Marsh
  • Margaret Courtenay as Maggie Jones
  • Hugh Futcher as Bert Barry
  • Maurice Lane as Andy Lee
  • Bob Sessions as Pat Denning
  • Ralph Lawton as Abner Dillon
  • Brent Verdon as Mac
  • Carol Ball as Ann Reilly
  • Felicity Lee as Lorraine Flemming
  • Catherine Terry as Phyllis Dale
  • Art Day as Oscar

This production also launched the career of teenaged Catherine Zeta-Jones, a chorus member who filled in to play the role of Peggy Sawyer when a vacation and illness happened to both the actress and the understudy portraying the role. Her performance became impressive enough for her to be cast permanently in the role for two years.

Plot Synopsis

One of show business’s most classic and beloved stories, 42nd Street tells the story of a humble, naïve young actress named Peggy Sawyer who gets a big break on Broadway.

Revered Broadway director Julian Marsh fell hard with both his health and finances, and aims to direct an ambitious musicalPretty Lady as his final production before he retires. Peggy arrives to New York City from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Her talent catches the eye of director Marsh, and she gets a spot in the chorus of Pretty Lady. The show stars classic Broadway diva Dorothy Brock, and takes an instant dislike on the new girl. Brock is torn between two lovers – Abner Dillon, the show’s wealthy producer who wanted to provide a starring vehicle for his girlfriend; and Pat Denning, the earnest but penniless actor who is Dorothy’s real love. The experienced chorus girls explain to naïve Peggy the Broadway facts of life.

Dorothy and lead actor Billy begin rehearsing their love scene. Abner objects to kissing as he doesn’t want to fund a production where he will see his girlfriend kissed by another man.

Marsh, even when ill, is a difficult task master who works long hours, continually pushing the cast to do better. Peggy becomes weak and faints on stage. She is carried to Dorothy’s dressing room, where Pat is waiting. Dorothy walks in and misreads what she sees. She thinks Pat is having an affair with Peggy.

In an impromptu cast party hosted by Peggy, Julian joins in. Dorothy drinks a bit too much and ended up telling Abner that she is only with him because of the money. Furious, Abner decides to close the show, but the kids talk him out of it.

During the opening of the show, Dorothy is accidentally knocked down by Peggy on their Act I finale. Julian becomes furious, fires Peggy and cancels the rest of the show.

When the doctor tells Julian that Dorothy’s ankle is broken, Julian decides to close the show for good but the cast won’t give up. The cast thinks Peggy can do Dorothy’s role, and Julian finally agrees. Since Peggy has already left for the train station to go back home, Julian rushes after her. He convinces Peggy to return to the show.

Peggy has only 36 hours to learn 25 pages, 10 dance numbers and 6 songs. At long last, the Broadway show became a spectacular hit, and Peggy Sawyer becomes an instant sensation.

Songs

Act I

  • “Overture” – Orchestra
  • “Audition” – Dancers
  • “Shadow Waltz” – Maggie, Dorothy, and Girls
  • “Young and Healthy” – Billy and Peggy
  • “Shadow Waltz (Reprise)” – Dorothy
  • “Go into Your Dance” – Maggie, Peggy, Annie, Phyllis, Lorraine, Gladys, and Andy
  • “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” – Dorothy
  • “Getting Out of Town” – Maggie, Bert, Pat, and Chorus
  • “We’re in the Money” – Annie, Phyllis, Lorraine, Gladys, Peggy, Billy, and Chorus
  • “Dames” – Billy and Chorus
  • “Keep Young and Beautiful/Dames Reprise” – Bert, Maggie and Ensemble
  • “I Only Have Eyes for You” – Dorothy and Billy
  • “I Know Now” – Dorothy, Chorus and Billy
  • “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” – Dorothy
  • “Act One Finale” – Dorothy and Orchestra

Act II

  • “Entr’acte” – Orchestra
  • “There’s a Sunny Side to Every Situation” – Annie and Chorus
  • “Lullaby of Broadway” – Julian and Company
  • “About a Quarter to Nine” – Dorothy and Peggy
  • “With Plenty of Money and You” – Men Ensemble
  • “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” – Maggie, Bert, Annie, and Girls
  • “Forty-Second Street” – Peggy with Dancing Company
  • “Forty-Second Street (Reprise)” – Julian
  • “Finale Ultimo” – Full Company and Orchestra

Awards

Original Broadway production

  • Best Musical, Tony Award (1981)
  • Best Choreography, Tony Award (1981) – Gower Champion
  • Outstanding Choreography, Drama Desk Award (1981) – Gower Champion
  • Outstanding Costume Design, Drama Desk Award (1981) – Theoni V. Aldredge
  • Theatre World Award (1981) – Wanda Richert

Original London production

  • Best New Musical, Laurence Olivier Award (1984)
  • Best Musical, Evening Standard Award (1984)
  • Broadway Revival
  • Best Revival of a Musical, Tony Award (2001)
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (2001) – Christine Ebersole
  • Outstanding Revival of a Musical, Drama Desk Award (2001)
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