Darlington Operatic Society discuss their recent production of 42nd Street. With more company numbers than most musicals, dozens of costume changes, huge set and a score with more brass than a monkey house in the middle of winter… 42nd Street is a classic piece of theatre for any amateur society to get their hands on.
OK… so the story is thin, has more holes in it than Swiss cheese but who cares? 42nd Street is THE feel-good musical. Indeed, the original film of 42nd Street was created as a way of getting the American public to forget about the Great Depression - if just for a couple of hours. The stage musical, brought to life on Broadway in 1980, won the Tony Award for best musical and has never looked back since. Requiring a good mix of strong tappers, actors and singers of all ages, the show opens up so many opportunities for theatre societies, and with show stopping numbers such as “We’re In The Money”, “Lullaby of Broadway” and the title track “42nd Street” it is well known and well loved by audiences too.
The first response you get from most people (particularly your men) is that 42nd Street is not for them as they “can’t dance” and particularly “can’t tap”. The rumour is that 42nd Street is a Tap Show…. Not so. OK, there is tap in it BUT, in the show’s 15 musical numbers, there are only 4 that necessitate tap… and one of these numbers is done by the 4 main girls. So… eleven ‘non-tap’ company numbers…. Compare that to, say, Beauty & The Beast where there are just 5 company numbers… and how popular is that show? So… you have spoken at length to your men and calmed their nerves. You then have to prepare for the onslaught of female members who are desperate to dust off their tap shoes. What is clear is that you need a leading lady who is a triple threat. No hiding place for the girl who gets to play ‘Peggy Sawyer’… as a line in the show sais “She’s got a voice that will panic ‘em and she can dance rings around (Dorothy) Brock”. The show may revolve around the quality of your leading lady but there are so many wonderful characters within the piece you can have so much fun with it…. And, more importantly, there is no real limitation of age for these parts. OK, Julian Marsh has to look as though he is an established Broadway director and Dorothy Brock a seasoned performer… but Bert, Maggie, Mac, Andy, Abner…. All can be played at any age (which opens up the possibilities to a huge percentage of your company).
Tap takes time to perfect. Although there are relatively few tap numbers in the show, this is what the public wants to see and you have to come up with the goods. Director and Choreographer Joanne Hand started work on the tap routines during rehearsals for our previous show, Beauty & The Beast. What Joanne is absolutely brilliant at is
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ONSTAGE working to the strengths of individuals while keeping everyone involved regardless of level of ability. Part of being a member of a theatre company is to learn, and if you stick at it you will surprise yourself how much tap you can learn in a relatively short period. With her unique style of choreography paying homage to the Busby Berkeley routines in the original film it was clear from an early stage that this production was going to be visually stunning.
For this show our costume department chose to ‘self-costume’ which meant hours upon hours of trawling Ebay and the internet for the styles laid down by the Director as well as hand embellishing others to create a stunning, colourful set of costumes. Certain items had to be hired (no way were we gong to be able to find several matching tail suits and top hats to fit our men on ebay). What all the months of hard work does mean is that we now have a number of costumes we can utilise in future productions but also that we have an excellent set of 42nd Street costumes we can hire out to other societies. Further images of the costumes can be found on our website (www. darlingtonoperaticsociety.org.uk). One word for 42nd Street…. “changes”…. Whatever space you could find, a dark corner here, behind a truck, IN a truck… half way up the stairs…. Changes…. quick changes were taking place seemingly every minute of the show. If you want to lose a few pounds then do 42nd Street!
42nd Street is a huge, huge show with more than double the amount of scene changes for a ‘normal’ show. We hired the set from Scenic Projects who (as ever) came up trumps and supplied a first class set. As ever with just one technical and one dress rehearsal… all those moves, routines, crosses you had done time and time again in rehearsal had to be adjusted when the enormity of the set became evident. Oh to have the luxury of three weeks worth of previews just to get it right.
For the last three productions, DarlingtonOS have hired in the services of sound specialists AP Audio who specialize in professional pantomime productions. The team worked tirelessly to not only balance the sound for each individual character but also each instrument in the pit – not an easy job with so much brass.
Marketing is something we all have to work hard at – there are no guaranteed bums on seats shows out there, not when you have 10,000 tickets to sell over eleven performances. On top of our usual print marketing and advertising we really started to push Social Network marketing – email, Facebook, Twitter in a way to continue communicating with our existing market but also starting to grow a new audience base who will become our core audience in several years time. Word of mouth is still a hugely important method of marketing so get people talking about the show well before it has even started.
So many unsolicited messages of congratulations, messages into the website, emails and texts…. Standing ovations…. Praise from local media critics…. All these are the pat on the back we strive for and which give us the energy and enthusiasm to pack 42nd Street away in a box marked ‘success’ and move straight on to The Producers.
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