42nd Street is one of Broadway’s unlikely success stories.
Adapted from the 1933 Busby Berkeley-choreographed film of the same name, it chronicles the toils of musical director Julian Marsh as he takes his last run at staging a successful show during the Great Depression, and the rise to fame of down-home country girl Peggy Sawyer to a dancing and singing star of the stage.
Graduating music theatre students brought the classic Broadway number to the the Victorian College of the Arts for their final year performance season in September 2015.
Led by an all-star creative team, including director Gary Young (Ned, Carousel, Singing in the Rain), choreographer Kirsten King (Strictly Ballroom, King Kong the Musical) and musical director Luke Hunter (Jersey Boys, Grease), 42nd Street also featured set design, lighting and stage management by graduating production students.
Much like its fictional source material, the original 1980 production of 42nd Street was no smooth ride. Producer David Merrick’s $AU3 million investment looked every part of the gamble that it was.
No film had ever been successfully adapted for Broadway, with the only attempt – 1974’s Gigi – bombing with audiences and critics alike.
British shows were beginning to dominate music theatre, with the rise of Andrew Lloyd Webber imminent.
Even the opening night was tinged with tragedy: veteran director Gower Champion succumbed to his battle with cancer 10 hours before the opening, a fact which was kept from the cast and crew until the final curtain call.
Yet 42nd Street went on to become one of the most successful shows in musical theatre history with close to 3,500 performances, and the last American musical to run for 25 straight years at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway.
A hat-tip to the big-band brashness of the 1930s, a paean to all-American optimism during the Depression and a razzle-dazzle celebration of the golden age of the stage, 42nd Street is truly one of the great triumphs of Broadway.
42nd Street was a 2015 Victorian College of the Arts production.
Photography by Drew Echberg, 2015.
Banner: Drew Echberg, 2015.