Michael Stewart, Mark Bramble, Al Dubin and Harry Warren's 42ND STREET harkens back to the days of the Ziegfeld Follies and the review shows of the 1930s. It is not, as many people think, a show that was actually produced in that era. The script came to life on Broadway in 1980 in a production directed by Gower Champion, which went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical. That production ran almost 3500 performances.
The Broadway opening night excitement was dimmed when the show's producer, David Merrick, following the curtain call and a lengthy standing ovation, went on stage to announce that "It is tragic…Gower Champion died this afternoon."
The pop hit tuneful score includes such memorable songs as Young and Healthy, You're Getting to Be A Habit With Me, We're in the Money, About A Quarter to Nine, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, and the title song, 42nd Street. This is the kind of script which encourages almost every song to be a production number, with Lullaby of Broadway, the showstopper of showstoppers.
From the very first scene in this year's Stratford Shakespeare Festival production, when a line of dancing feet appears below a partially raised curtain, it is obvious this is going to be a fun, often raucous show, filled with faced paced singing and dynamic dancing. Yes, dancing of every variety. There's waltz, slow dance, contemporary movements, but mostly tapping, tapping and more tapping. This is a choreographer's dream and Stratford's Alex Sanchez does a smashing job of recreating much of Gower Champion's enveloping movements.
Conductor Michael Barber helps the cause by keeping his fine orchestra in the right pace and sounds.
The paper-thin plot, which is based on a novel by Bradford Ropes, which had been converted into a 1933 film, is the tale of how a Broadway extravaganza was created during depression days by legendary dictatorial director, Julian Marsh. The plot is enhanced by the legend of a chorus girl becoming a star as she steps into the leading role at the last minute. (There is much of the feel of NBC's TV show SMASH.)
In reality, the story is only there to hold together the great songs, the wonderful dancing, the lush costumes and the creative staging.
The Stratford production is well directed by Gary Griffin. The show is nicely paced, gets the request of laughs, sticks to the needed 1930 stylizations, and is a delight. Even the set changes are creative.
The cast is universally excellent. Handsome Kyle Blair sings and shines as Billy, the boy ingénue. Adorable Jennifer Rider-Shaw sparkles as Peggy Sawyer, the small town show business newbie who steps out of the chorus to become a star. Sean Arbuckle gives the right nasty but nice quality to Julian Marsh.
The chorus, "the kids of PRETTY LADY" (the show within the show), astound with their high quality dancing and singing.
Capsule judgement: Stratford's 42nd STREET is a total delight. Anyone who loves great dancing, fine singing, and creative staging should be enchanted by this production.