SALT LAKE CITY — The new national touring production of "42nd Street" will launch in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 22.
Mark Bramble, director and co-author of the show — which he dubs "the granddaddy of backstage musicals" — says the show brings an optimistic message.
"We've just been through a terrible recession that we seem to be coming out of, and '42nd Street' speaks to that," Bramble said in a written statement about the tour. "It's also an American dream story, and people like that. They want that!"
Bramble said the audience can easily root for Peggy Sawyer — a young actress who comes to New York to be a Broadway star — and share in her struggles and successes as director Julian Marsh tries to produce a lavish musical in financially desperate times.
The show begins when Sawyer is late for her audition, is rescued by the director and ends up replacing a veteran actress. First, though, she has to learn 25 pages of lines, six songs and 10 dance routines in 36 hours.
Matthew J. Taylor, who plays Marsh, said Marsh sees a new talent in Sawyer.
"Like many great directors, immortality is not only defined by the shows they set but also by the careers they launch," he said. "Peggy represents a new talent which could continue Julian's legacy."
"42nd Street" is then a Cinderella-type story based on the 1932 Bradford Ropes novel, which inspired the 1933 Warner Brothers movie. (The show won Tony awards for Best Musical and later for Best Revival of a Musical.)
Taylor said the show works because of "great music, great words, high stakes and a ton of talented tappers. This show blends the grit of a modern musical with the nostalgic levity and beautiful music of the golden age. It's a show that has something to say but also leaves you feeling good. Not many musicals these days can say the same."
Bramble said the national touring show is based on the 2001 Broadway revival but has new scenic design and some adjustments.
"I've taken out a few lines and added a few more lines, a few more wisecracks. But we didn't reinvent or deconstruct '42nd Street,'" Bramble said. "We were determined to deliver the show with everything the title promises. This touring production is a musical comedy motion picture in living color, similar to the 2001 idea."
Bramble said the cast is young and brings heart, energy and enthusiasm that's "absolutely infectious. These are things you can't manufacture. The audience can feel it; it spills out off the stage. It's heartwarming and it makes you feel good."
Many in the cast were not familiar with the show, and in Bramble's opinion, that's a good thing.
"It's a fresh, new experience for them, and they are in no way jaded," he said.
Caitlin Ehlinger, who plays Sawyer, and Blake Stadnik, who plays the juvenile lead, Billy Lawlor, are making their professional debuts.
"Charisma is something that is hard to put into words," Bramble said. "But when you see it, you know it right away. It takes two seconds to realize if a person has it or not. And both Caitlin and Blake have it. When Caitlin auditioned, she stood out in the room, far above any of the other girls, and she’s brought that into her performance. She is Peggy Sawyer. She’s amazing.
"The same is true for Blake. He stood out in the lineup of boys when they were dancing during auditions, and we all said, ‘Who is that?’”
Bramble spent a lot of time telling the cast about the Depression era and assigned everyone to find somebody who was alive during the Depression and collect a remembrance from them. Most talked to great-grandparents and heard stories about hardship, hunger and heartbreak.
It was also essential that they explore what people were like socially in the 1930s.
"It was quite different," Bramble said. "People weren’t huggy-kissy. They were much more formal. All of this gives the cast the sense of truth, of authenticity. It gives them a depth that they otherwise wouldn’t have, and you can see it in their performances."
One day during rehearsal, Bramble said, they were working through the scenes and their seasoned producer arrived unannounced. At the end of rehearsal, he wiped away a tear.
At that, Bramble said he thought to himself, "We've still got it!"
If you go ...
What: "42nd Street" national tour
Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
When: Sept. 22-24, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 25, 8 p.m.; Sept. 26, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sept. 27, 1 and 6:30 p.m.
How much: $32.50-$65
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.
Email: [email protected]