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A Day on “42nd Street” MAG
"Hey, did ya see this? Julian Marsh is doing a show!"
"It’s in Variety, Julian Marsh is doing a show!"
"We’re going to work again!"
"Get out your tap shoes, Francis!"
"Julian Marsh is doing a show!"
"First audition, 10 a.m. tomorrow!"
And so begins rehearsal. The sounds of the pit orchestra fill the empty auditorium. Thirty dancers in three lines of 10 stand quietly, our arms firmly at our sides and our feet together. The curtains open, revealing us to the directors. As though a gunshot had sounded, we all begin to tap. It’s our first time practicing with the pit and the music seems slow compared with the CD we normally dance to.
From the stage I can barely make out our dance instructor motioning us to slow down. The conductor tries fervently to speed up. We eventually reach a plateau of speed on the rolling shuffles (a step where you brush your toe forward, spank it back and then leap onto your other foot). All 30 of us scream the counts on the trenches (a step where you kick back your legs straight and then run in place), "Two, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight .... break ... yeah!" We freeze with our arms stretched in the air and our legs in a lunge. We wait for the dance captain to move and follow his lead. The opening number has come to an end.
"All right, good, offstage!" yells the director. All the tap shoes sound like a thousand ticking clocks as we dash offstage.
"Cast," says the choral director. "‘Getting Out of Town’ is next." The ensemble scrambles backstage to find their suitcases for the scene. I find mine at the bottom of a pile and run to my line in the back row. I think, Next year I’ll be in the front row. This is, after all, my first musical, so I lack seniority.
As I look out from stage right, I see the lights changing from soft to intense and then fade to a black out. They slowly fade back up and the pit starts playing. Some on stage throw their hands in front of their faces and try to block the light. Backstage, I find Eric, an ensemble member, lying on a chaise in a provocative way. I hear him saying, "Draw me, Jack, draw me wearing this ... only this." He is trying to imitate Rose from "Titanic." Laughter echoes from those around him waiting for their cue to enter the scene.
We hear the familiar cues from Maggie, "Come on, let’s get packing." The pit crescendos and the ensemble walks briskly on stage in five lines.
"Stop!" yells the director. She motions us to the edge of the stage. "Keep your suitcases in the hand facing the audience." I switch mine when her back is turned, trying not to be noticed.
"You guys are getting drowned out by the pit. You have to look out at the audience at all times when you’re walking." She demonstrates how it should be done. As she walks toward the back of the stage, she flips her head around so it continues to face the audience. "Of course, you’ll have to trust that the person in front of you doesn’t fall," she jokes. "Again, from the chorus entrance!" she yells with humor.
We go back into our lines. I look up and see messages written high above in the fly space (where the drops are held): "Super-Flies 85," "The only way to fly" and "EMO." The last one stumps me.
Once again the music crescendos and we walk on stage while singing. On the phrase "My neighbors are awful nice," our five lines move in circles, one overlapping the other. In the front row we march in place, while the four back rows desperately try to drop their luggage secretly onto a cart. "Getting ... getting out," I throw my suitcase down as another member sits on it, putting her arm around me. "Getting out of ..." The pit is silent and then the chorus sings out loudly, "Town!" All of the ensemble’s arms fling out, which makes for an astonishing finish.
"Good, again. Remember, sing as loudly as your little bodies can," says the director. We finish the scene for the fifth time and finally get the okay to move on.
"Cast! Come out quickly," she shouts. The sound of 50 pairs of tap shoes roars from the wings and then dwindles to silence.
"It’s 5:30, let’s do ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ two or three times and then you can go home," she says. Happiness fills some faces, and people start to cooperate more. "Let’s go!" she yells to get everyone going.
We scramble backstage and Peggy and Julian, the two leads, are left on stage. Peggy sits slouched on a suitcase and Julian approaches her. This is one of the most famous scenes in any Broadway production. It’s important to realize that "42nd Street" is a play within a play.
"Ms. Sawyer, I’m here to apologize for what happened and ask you to come back," he says after he’s fired her. While in rehearsal, Peggy, a beginner ensemble member, accidentally bumps into diva Dorothy who falls, breaking her ankle. Julian, the director of the "play," threatens to close down the show, but the cast (knowing they would be unemployed) scrambles to find a replacement. They suggest Peggy, and Julian finally agrees since she is the last hope.
Julian looks out into the empty auditorium and holds his head up high as he gets ready to speak some of the most well-known lines in any musical.
"Sawyer, think of Broadway, damn it!" His tone changes from a motivational plea to a hopeful command.
The orchestra softly enters as he walks around her. He rocks her back and forth and sings into her ear. Her slouch disappears and she lifts her head and sways with him. Billy enters dramatically, tossing his hands to his sides. Peggy whips around to greet him, her eyes lighting up, and she smiles. The music gets louder, developing a definite swing. Then more and more of the cast flows in, and eventually we all are there, trying to convince Peggy to return. Peggy gets off her suitcase and they dance slowly. The music switches to an anxious beat and we all huddle around Peggy in one last attempt to convince her. Peggy secretly slips out and magically reappears, at which point the music stops and she taps one of the ensemble members on the back.
"Huh?" we all turn to see Peggy looking at us. All is silent for two seconds, and then she yells, "I’ll do it!" We all give a loud relieved cheer. Falling back into our lines, we finish the most climactic scene. "Listen to, the lullaby of ... old ... Broad ... way!" The scene ends with everyone singing and dancing.
"Good, we’ll work on that more tomorrow," says the director enthusiastically. We can tell she is surprised that we actually got through a scene without stopping ... finally.
"Okay, time for you to go home," she says abruptly, and we are done.