“42nd Street” was a Broadway show about people putting on a Broadway show. The Grand Theatre production of “42nd Street” comes pretty close to being a Broadway show itself, an ambitious, energetic delight with dozens of backdrops, sets, and costume changes.
There is also dancing. Tons of it. I freely admit to being a sucker for a show with good dancing, and “42nd Street” stops working on its feeble plot about every two minutes in order to have a big song-and-dance number. Director/choreographer Jim Christian has created routines that are snappy and lively, and he’s found a talented ensemble of dancers to carry them out.
The story is about the production of “Pretty Lady,” a Busby Berkeley-type musical that is supposed to be one of the biggest in Broadway history, thanks to mega-director Julian Marsh (Gary Neilson) being behind it, and Broadway super-diva Dorothy Brock (Alisa Harris-Aguilar) being at center stage.
Auditioning for the chorus is Peggy Sawyer (Amy Oakeson), a pretty, naive gal just off the train from Allentown, Pa., who barely makes it into the show. Her love interest, for approximately two seconds, is fellow cast member Billy Lawlor (Peter Russell). Their relationship fails because “42nd Street” writers Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble forgot to keep working on it: This show thrives on its singing and dancing, not on its plot, which is full of little holes like that.
We see the show through the rehearsal process, up to the first performance, during which Dorothy busts her ankle and Julian Marsh declares to the audience that the show has been canceled, and we can have our money refunded. He’s referring to “Pretty Lady,” of course, not “42nd Street,” but the effect is tremendously original and satisfying, especially because after he says that, the house lights come up and we go to intermission — a very anti-climactic way to end the first act of a Broadway musical!
Most of “42nd Street” parallels “Pretty Lady.” Nearly all of the songs we hear are actually numbers from the fictitious show we’re seeing from behind the scenes; it’s rare for the “42nd Street” characters to just burst into song (though it does happen occasionally).
And the songs are great. You’ll recognize numbers like “We’re in the Money,” “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” and of course the title song. The young, enthusiastic cast — particularly Neilson, Oakeson and Russell — performs with confidence, having absolutely no qualms saying ridiculous lines like, “You hoofers are the luckiest bunch in the whole darn business.”
“42nd Street” is a tribute to old-time Broadway musicals, and the Grand Theatre’s production is as handsome as can be.
The origin of this show is that in 1980, some Broadway guys wanted to make a stage version of the old movie "42nd Street." They wanted to preserve the great Harry Warren/Al Dubin songs from the movie; however, those songs weren't enough to make for a full "musical" by traditional standards. So they dug up some more Warren/Dubin songs and put them in, changed the story where necessary, and came up with the show "42nd Street." It went on to be one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history, up there with "A Chorus Line" and "Cats" (both of which it is far superior to).
It is impossible NOT to tap your feet while hearing the song "42nd Street." Go ahead and try it. Your efforts will be in vain.