Not all the choreography in the musical “42nd Street” is happening on stage.
“We have to determine who needs to go on first and who has to change costumes when,” said Rachel Rockwell, the director of the Paramount Theatre’s production of “42nd Street,” “We have to choreograph what furniture pieces we need to get back on stage and when. It’s our job to make it seem effortless.”
Rockwell gets assistance from Tammy Mader, the show’s choreographer.
“Rachel and I sit down and we figure out the traffic of people backstage,” Mader said. “In the number ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo,’ for example, when the first sleeper car exits the stage, we have to have the girls who are in the next number be in that first car so they can get out of the car before everyone else. So they jump out of the sleeper car, dump their pajamas, and get dressed for their next number to go back on stage.”
“42nd Street” will be presented from Jan. 15 to Feb. 9 at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
The musical is based on the novel by Bradford Ropes and the subsequent 1933 film adaptation, and it focuses on the efforts of director Julian Marsh to produce a stage production during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The show centers on Peggy, a small town girl who leaves her family to pursue her dreams in New York City. She gets a part in the chorus of the show “Pretty Lady,” but when the lead actress gets injured, Peggy has the chance to step out of the chorus and become a star.
The show has a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin. Songs in the show include “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and the title number, “42nd Street.”
“42nd Street” ran for 3,486 performances on Broadway from Aug. 25, 1980, to Jan. 9, 1989. The show won a Tony Award for Best Musical. A revival opened on Broadway on May 2, 2001, and closed on Jan. 2, 2005, for a total of 1,524 performances. That show won a Tony Award for Best Revival.
In addition to choreographing on stage and backstage movement, costume changes are a challenge for Rockwell and the cast.
“The volume of costumes is astronomical,” Rockwell said. “It is a constant battle to get people changed and back on stage. In other shows, we have one or two dressers. In this show, we have four dressers helping to change the costumes of 26 cast members.”
Although the show is well known for such ensemble tap dance numbers as “42nd Street” and “We’re in the Money,” every number has special attributes, according to Mader.
“The number ‘Shadow Waltz’ is in three-quarter time and is a balletic and comedic number,” she said. “We use shadows in an old-school, low-tech way. It is a charming, clever, well-executed piece of theater magic.”
And Mader believes that the charm of the show is the basis of its appeal.
“The people in the story have nothing but hope, common decency and talent,” she said. “It is a show that is full of hope.”
“There is an heirloom quality about the show,” Mader continued. “It pays homage to that time period and to that style of show. Representing this show gives me great satisfaction.”