Breadlines, broken ankles, and Broadway: the critical components to one of the most beloved musicals of all time. 42nd Street tells the tale of a young girl who moves from her small town in Pennsylvania to New York City in the hopes of finding fame and fortune in the chorus of a Broadway show. When tragedy strikes the leading lady, this chorus girl is given minimal time to prepare herself for the role of a lifetime. Based on the 1933 film of the same name, 42nd Street debuted on Broadway in 1980 and featured unparalleled spectacle and copious amounts of tap dancing.
42nd Street takes place in Manhattan during the Great Depression. While the impacts of the Depression were evidenced across the country, New York City felt this turmoil acutely. Already an epicenter of poverty, breadlines were extensive as each day saw more businesses closed, and more people living on the streets. People were in need of relief and escape.
The era, considered to be a part of “Hollywood’s Golden Age” saw the advent of the “talkie.” Thus emerged the movie musical. This new genre took current stage shows and new stories in the style of Broadway Musicals and adapted them for the silver screen. Movie houses popped up across the country (some of which were in old vaudeville theatres). One of the most popular films of the Era was the 1933 film 42nd Street which starred film icons of the 1920s and ‘30s including Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, Bebe Daniels, Dick Powell, and Ginger Rogers. Busby Berkeley, the iconic musical director and choreographer was beginning his career in film. 42nd Street catapulted him to fame with his kaleidoscopic stage pictures and meticulously precise choreography. This film and the dance elements it featured became the basis for the stage show which would debut in 1980 then be revised again in 2001.
The rise of movie musicals reflected massive problems for the American theater, which was, and remains based in New York. In this city full of impoverished people, very few people could afford the cost of a ticket to see a Broadway show. Movie musicals gave audiences an evening of entertainment and an escape from their troubles in the style of their beloved Broadway productions for less than a quarter. Though Broadway saw a decline in attendance, the work featured on the stage was far better than it had ever been before. The world around may have seemed bleak, but performers worked tirelessly to entertain audiences who could afford to attend.
42nd Street was adapted for the Broadway stage in the early ‘80s during the rebirth of Broadway and the onset of the era of “Mega musicals.” Spearheaded by writers like Andrew Lloyd Webber, this period rejuvenated interest in the Broadway musical; highlighting and emphasizing the spectacle that is inherent to this art form. The original film, 42nd Street, proved the perfect source material. It had a solid storyline, the beginnings of a joyous score, fabulous tap numbers, and spectacle beyond anything that had been seen thus far onstage. It soon became the second movie musical ever to be adapted to a full-length Broadway show, and the first to find success. After a nine-year run and nearly 3,500 performances, it sealed its place as the 14th longest-running Broadway show to date. The original production was nominated for eight Tony awards and won two for “Best Musical” and “Best Choreography” in 1981.
The Ogunquit Playhouse production is directed by Randy Skinner, who was part of the creative team with the original Broadway and West End productions. He, alongside book writer and director, Mark Bramble, also choreographed the 2001 Broadway revival, 2015 West End revival, and the 2015 National Tour of the show. He has received multiple award nominations for the remarkable work that he puts on stage. This production reunites Skinner and his vast knowledge of all things 42nd Street with the spectacular costumes and props from the most recent West End production.
Mr. Skinner is not the only 42nd Street alum whose work connects to the Ogunquit Playhouse. Tammy Grimes, the original Broadway Dorothy Brock, made her Playhouse debut in the 1983 cast of Outward Bound. Her co-star Lee Roy Reams also appeared on the stage in 1996’s farewell tribute, Thank You, John Lane. Original Broadway cast member and the U.S. National Tour’s original Dorothy Brock, Millicent Martin, made her Ogunquit Playhouse debut in the 1993 production of Noises Off and returned to the stage the following season in Moon over Buffalo. The legacy of 42nd Street and the superb work of the multitalented artist, Randy Skinner, connect past and present stars of the Ogunquit Playhouse.