The musical 42nd Street debuted on Broadway in 1980 and marked several major shifts in American musical theatre. For one, it’s the last show directed by legend Gower Champion. He died hours before 42nd Street opened at the Winter Garden Theatre (his death was kept secret until after the standing ovation). Also, the show was the final hit by famed producer David Merrick and gave Jerry Orbach (who would later go on to play “Lennie Briscoe” in Law & Order) his last big Broadway role.
The production, with songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, furthered the trend of staging musicals from the first third of the 20th century—No, No, Nanette (1971); Irene (1974); and Very Good Eddie (1975). As for 42nd Street, it’s based on the 1933 film of the same name. Finally, 42nd Street was one of the last traditional Broadway musicals before the arrival of contemporary shows like Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Les MisÃ©rables. In fact, 42nd Street moved to the Majestic Theatre to make room for Cats and then to the St. James Theatre to make room for Phantom.
42nd Street ran on Broadway for more 3,400 performances making it one of the longest running shows of all-time. It debuted on London’s West End in 1984; in its cast was a young Catherine Zeta-Jones. The show was revived for Broadway in 2001 where it ran another 1,500 times. The cast included renowned character actor Christine Ebersole and Drop Dead Diva’s Kate Levering. The three productions won a total of ten major theatre awards including Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Revival.
The musical is set in 1933 and revolves around New York City newcomer Peggy Sawyer and the production of the fictional Broadway show Pretty Lady. Peggy dances her way into the chorus and eventually lands the lead. Along the way, she befriends the girls in the chorus, dates the director, and breaks the female star’s ankle. Some of the musical’s most famous songs are “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” and “About a Quarter to Nine.”