42nd Street dazzles again at the Schuster

By Eric Street

Photo: Blake Stadnik as Billy Lawlor (center) and the Company go for the gold in 42 Street’s ‘We’re in the Money,’ running Jan. 10-15; photos: Chris Bennion

“You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!” This is the gut-tightening challenge that propels 42nd Street and keeps audiences riveted in rapt attention. The show must go on!

The plot is simple but forever compelling: Peggy Sawyer, fresh off the bus from Allentown, arrives in Depression-era New York City with high hopes of auditioning for 1933’s newest show, Pretty Lady. Several in the cast befriend her, but Peggy has no chance until Julian Marsh, the famous director, accidentally sees her dancing and adds her to the chorus.

Just before the out-of-town opening in Philadelphia, someone bumps Peggy. In a chain reaction, she trips and crashes into the aging star of the show, knocking her onto the stage. Julian fires Peggy on the spot. Crushed, she heads for the train station.

The star’s ankle is broken and the show may close, leaving everyone stranded in Philadelphia without work.

Her chorus friends convince Julian that Peggy’s a fresh young face who can sing and dance circles around the temperamental injured star. He decides it’s worth a shot and rushes off to the station to catch her before she departs.

Julian apologizes and asks Peggy to stay and star in the show, but she’s done with show business and wants to go home. He coaxes her with, “Come on along and listen to the lullaby of Broadway.” When the cast joins him, she accepts.

Sweating to learn the part in two days, Peggy is close to a breakdown when the injured star arrives in her leg cast and admits she’s been watching her. She magnanimously declares that Peggy is “maybe even better than I would have been.”

Julian’s in love with Peggy by the time the opening night curtain is about to rise. He stops by for a last-minute kiss and pep talk, where he utters the now famous line, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!”

Can the spunky rookie make her career, save the show, and with it, all her new friend’s jobs? Let’s just say the ending is as spectacularly joyous as a glitzy tap-dance musical can be.

“Yes, I’m the guy who gets to utter that iconic line,” laughs baritone Matthew Taylor, who plays director Julian Marsh.

High-kicking numbers

“Folks love 42nd Street so much because it speaks to that inner performer that’s in so many of us. The director points at you and says, ‘You’ve got to go on and save the show!’ It’s a secret desire that lurks in most performers.”

Taylor explains that the show is full of classic numbers most people may recognize but don’t realize are from the musical. “It’s an effervescent story, and to see the stage crowded with performers is truly magical,” he says.

“Most of my favorite moments in the show aren’t even mine,” Taylor continues. “They belong to the chorus. It’s a wonderful moment when they go into their kicks in ‘We’re in the Money,’ and the audience energy in response just lifts you up! The actress who plays Peggy Sawyer has a natural ferocity in her life, and she brings it into the show and lets it loose as her character develops. Her amazing energy gives the show great thrust.”

“If nothing else, the show is full of glitz and glamor. Our director told us that if you’re not blind from all the glitter by the end, you’re not paying attention. You won’t believe all the energy that’s pumped out at the audience. And the audience responds and sends it right back to the cast. Bring your sunglasses!

The hit-filled score by Harry Warren and Al Dubin bounces, lilts, and taps its enthusiastic way from beginning to end. Some of the best-known numbers from 42nd Street include “Young and Healthy,” “Shadow Waltz,” “Go into Your Dance,” “You’re Gettin’ to Be a Habit with Me,” “Getting Out of Town,” “Dames,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and, of course, “Forty-Second Street,” a pulse-stirring homage to the heart of Broadway. You can count on seeing big production numbers filled with energetic tap-dancing.

Backstory of 42nd Street

Producer David Merrick gambled big with a lavish production based on the 1933 Warner Brothers film musical of the same name. After the successful revivals of No, No, Nanette and Irene, Merrick felt audiences were ready to embrace nostalgia. He augmented the familiar songs from the film with other popular tunes by Warren and Dubin, who wrote the original score. Theatre historian John Kenrick writes, “When the curtain slowly rose to reveal forty pairs of tap-dancing feet, the star-studded opening night audience at the Winter Garden cheered.” The original Broadway production is the 14th-longest running show on Broadway and has seen numerous successful revivals, winning both Tony and Olivier Awards for Best Musical and Best Musical Revival.

42nd Street is a fantastic part of musical theater,” Taylor says. “We don’t get to see lots of glitzy, glamorous tap-shows anymore. It goes to the heart of what musical theatre is all about. 42nd Street is a great way to introduce folks to the American musical theater experience—husbands, wives, children, friends. And it’s something worth sharing!”

42nd Street takes the stage Tuesday, Jan. 10 through Friday, Jan. 13 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 14 at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 15 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. in downtown Dayton. For tickets or more information, please visit or

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Eric Street
Eric Street is Professor of Music at UD with a doctorate from Indiana University. His Carnegie Hall debut led to performances in 36 countries on six continents. An opera lover, he’s taught Opera History and accompanied over two-dozen singers from the Metropolitan and NYC Opera. Reach him at

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