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    Stage
    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    ‘42nd Street’ taps its way into The Goodspeed

    From left, Taylor Lane, Eloise Kropp and Danielle Jackman rehearse with other cast members of Goodspeed’s “42nd Street.” (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)
    Randy Skinner (Photo by Katie Desjardins)
    Lamont Brown, E. Clayton Cornelious, Max von Essen, Carina-Kay Louchiey, Blake Stadnik and Eloise Kropp in Goodspeed’s “42nd Street.” (Photo by Katie Desjardins)

    If anyone is an expert on the iconic musical “42nd Street,” it’s probably Randy Skinner.

    He assisted renowned director and choreographer Gower Champion on the original Broadway production in 1980.

    Skinner did the musical staging and new choreography for the 2001 revival on the Great White Way.

    He staged all of the companies of that 1980 version when it went to Australia and London, and for the American national tours. His 2001 revival toured in America and played in London.

    And Skinner is directing the latest version of the show now at The Goodspeed in East Haddam.

    “42nd Street” tells the tale of a young Midwestern woman named Peggy Sawyer who heads to Broadway with ambitions of becoming a star. She nabs a job as an understudy, and when the lead actress can’t go on, Peggy fills in … and is a hit.

    “It’s a timeless story in the fact that it’s your dream coming true. I think everybody relates to that,” Skinner says. “People certainly in show business relate to that. I think it’s that whole thing about having a goal. Peggy Sawyer comes with a dream, and by the end of the show, she has achieved that dream. You can never get enough reminders of that — to stay in the race and work hard, and then hopefully your dream comes to fruition.”

    “42nd Street” is based on the 1933 movie starring Ruby Keeler and Ginger Rogers and boasts tunes by Al Dubin and Harry Warren. The score is full of classic songs, including “Lullaby of Broadway,” “We’re in the Money,” “I Only Have Eyes for You” and the title number.

    Between the score, the story and its connection to a familiar movie, Skinner says the stage version of “42nd Street” — like the theater adaptation of “White Christmas” that he has also worked on — is a foolproof evening of entertainment that brings a lot of joy to people on both sides of the footlights.

    “The audiences love it, but also the performers love doing the material. A lot of that comes from the fact that the scores are so wonderful that they are dance-driven shows. People love dancing, and when you have a great group of dancers to work on, it creates magic in the room,” he says.

    One of the interesting aspects of staging “42nd Street” at The Goodspeed is fitting a show known for its expansive dance numbers onto Goodspeed’s famously small stage, which is 18-by-25 feet.

    Skinner says, “It really fills the stage. I mean, it is pretty amazing. I always say, with Goodspeed, you really have to hit your marks and you have to be so aware of your space because of the stage size. But from an audience perspective, it never looks crowded, which is what’s so great about the Goodspeed Opera House. It’s kind of a perception that there’s more space up there than there actually is.”

    Skinner has directed shows at Goodspeed before (“Lucky in the Rain,” “George M,” and “Babes in Arms”), so he knows the space.

    He says that in when “42nd Street” “was such a big, big show, it demanded huge musical houses, whether it played in New York or it played all across the country or over in London, just to make the financial numbers work. But when you’re doing a smaller show or a smaller musical, you do have an opportunity to possibly put it into a smaller theater, which also gives it a very different feeling for the audience.”

    Where the show has been a spectacle in the past, at a more intimate venue like Goodspeed, he says, “The audience is so close, you really feel everything. You will get to know everybody in a cast this size, which is kind of wonderful for the show.”

    There are 21 actors in the cast at Goodspeed, compared with around 45 for the 2001 Broadway production.

    That kind of downsizing is not unusual for revivals these days. Skinner notes that the “Funny Girl” now on Broadway has a cast of 22, as opposed to twice that in the original version.

    At the same time, Skinner says, “It’s important to make everything work, and you don’t want to do a smaller version of a show and then put it in a huge house. That makes no sense at all. It’s kind of what every creative team has to go through now: how do you rethink some of these formerly huge revivals that people still want to see, and new generations need to see, but how do you rethink them so they’re accessible today and you’re able to do them? And then you learn from it, because it does change things.”

    He adds: “I’m having a ball working on this and viewing it through new eyes … I’m thrilled to say it works as well at Goodspeed as it does at the Drury Lane in London years ago, which is one of the biggest stages in the world — it’s huge (around 2,000 seats), that theater.”

    Changes to the show

    Some aspects of “42nd Street” are sacrosanct when doing a new production — the curtain at first lifting to reveal dancing feet, for instance.

    But Skinner is bringing an array of fresh elements to the production at Goodspeed. For instance, the character of diva Dorothy Brock dances and is a real triple threat. Back in the 1980 production, Tammy Grimes played Dorothy. While Grimes was a wonderful actress, she wasn’t a dancer. So the show adjusted, and the character of Dorothy has remained a non-dancer since then.

    Skinner and Mark Bramble, who co-wrote the book for “42nd Street,” spoke several years ago about the idea of making Dorothy into a dancer, as she had been in the 1933 film.

    Skinner helmed a small production four summers ago that introduced that element, and he says it was very successful. People who knew “42nd Street” thought that the reimagined Dorothy really changed the stakes in the show.

    At Goodspeed, Kate Baldwin is playing Dorothy. Her string of Broadway credits include two Tony-nominated performances, for the 2017 production of “Hello, Dolly!” with Bette Midler and for 2009’s “Finian’s Rainbow.”

    There a lot of other surprises, Skinner says. For instance, a number that had been done by 24 women will now be performed by men.

    The production will also feature some video and projections in ways that haven’t been done before.

    “That brings a show up to what audiences’ expectations are today … Theater is really competing against television today,” Skinner says.

    ‘Something very special’

    Skinner is now the last living member of the original creative team who has been involved through all the years of “42nd Street.”

    Champion died on the opening night of “42nd Street” in 1980, which left the show’s book writers, Bramble and Michael Stewart, and Skinner as the show’s torchbearers. Stewart died in 1987.

    “Mark and I were the two remaining of the creative team that went on and did all the other companies after 1980, national tours here in American, Australia, London,” Skinner says.

    Bramble died in 2019.

    There has been a lot of talk about producing “42nd Street” again since the pandemic, Skinner says, in part because it’s timely. These days are “pretty much like reliving in 1933 (during the Depression) when the movie came out — how those movies really provided such great entertainment and uplifted the spirits. These are still challenging times right now for people. You watch the news and the world situation – just everything that everybody’s facing.”

    Broadway and West End producer Richard Winkler broached the subject of doing a smaller version of the musical.

    Skinner knew that Goodspeed was possibly going to be in the mix for that, and he recalls, “I said I thought this was a great idea, and I think we just need to … place it in the appropriate theater when it moves.”

    The idea is that this production could eventually travel to smaller houses around the country and possibly to New York City.

    “We’re building something very special and a more intimate version so we really do want to be careful of the theater selection. I just love that because it’s such a different experience when you see a musical in a 1,000-seat house,” he says, noting that shows like “Come From Away” and “Dear Evan Hansen” have played in smaller venues. “It’s more like viewing a play because you’re so close to it and yet you have all the wonderful music and dancing.”

    IF YOU GO

    What: “42nd Street”

    Where: The Goodspeed, 6 Main St., East Haddam

    When: Through Nov. 6; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wed., 7:30 p.m. Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 3 and 8 p.m. Sat., and 2 p.m. Sun.; also, 6:30 p.m. through Oct. 16, and 2 p.m. Thurs. starting Oct. 20

    Tickets: $30-$80

    Contact: (860) 873-8668, goodspeed.org

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