Kyle Dean Massey, who stars in the national tour of 42nd Street, says he has two favorite scenes in the show, and he isn't in either one.
"I love the beginning. I love how the curtain just rises, maybe a foot or so, and you see about a hundred feet in all different colored shoes, and they just start tapping. I just love that percussive beginning of the show. And then there's an encore after the final bows, which is just kind of the same thing, a big group of people tap dancing. I get to watch it every night, and I don't get tired of it."
Massey plays Billy Lawler, the romantic lead of 42nd Street, a Theater League production that opens Thursday for six performances in the Stranahan Theater.
The show is loosely based on the 1933 movie of the same name, but only four songs were kept from that film when Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble wrote the book for the Broadway musical. They swiped songs from other movie musicals of the era, including Gold Diggers of 1933 and Dames; Gower Champion created elaborate choreography and inventive direction, and David Merrick produced the show filled with lavish costumes and spectacles.
It opened on Broadway in 1980, won the Tony Award for Best New Musical, and ran for almost 3,500 performances, making it one of the 10 longest-running shows in Broadway history. It reopened in 2001, with director Bramble and choreographer Randy Skinner putting their own touches on Champion's work, won the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival, and closed last month after 1,524 performances.
The story is pretty thin and not terribly original. A starstruck kid, Peggy, from Allentown, Pa., gets a place in the chorus line of Julian Marsh's new Broadway show, which being bankrolled by Abner, a businessman from Tulsa. Abner is only doing it because he's in love with a diva named Dorothy, who wants a starring role on Broadway, but when the plot has Billy kissing Dorothy, a jealous Abner insists on changes. One thing leads to another, Dorothy can't go on, and the show is ready to close. But Peggy saves the day.
"I've done the show about 150 times, but it's still fun to do, believe it or not," Massey said in a telephone interview from Youngstown in late January.
"There's a light story line, true, but the dancing is just so wonderful. The energy and the [feedback from] the audience is so thrilling to do every night."
Massey said 42nd Street is called the Broadway musical for people who love Broadway musicals and it is representative of how shows were changing in the Depression era, shifting from vaudeville variety shows to stories with a plot.
People seem to connect with that mix of the time period, the dancing, and the story, he said. "They identify with that kind of excitement and energy and the desperation of those characters."
Massey said he's even heard that some audience members leave the theater and start taking tap-dance lessons because they want to keep that energy going.
And then there are the songs.
"There are a lot of songs that come up and people go like, 'Oh I didn't even know that was in this musical,' " he said, listing "I Only Have Eyes for You" and "Shuffle Off to Buffalo."
"Even the younger crowd, they always know 'We're in the Money,' or 'The Lullaby of Broadway.' Those are standards."
Speaking of the younger crowd, Massey said 42nd Street is a true family show. There's nothing off-color about it, and even if the youngsters don't follow the story, the dancing and colorful costumes will keep them entranced.
Massey said he got the job of Billy four days after graduating from Southwest Missouri State University in May, 2004, with a bachelor's degree in musical theater.
"I actually had taken some time off school a couple of years ago and moved to New York and started auditioning, not auditioning to take any roles, but just auditioning for the sake of auditioning to kind of get myself in the scene, if you will. And then I went back to school to complete my degree."
This particular tour opened in Japan, Massey said, and was incredibly well received. "We did the show in English, and we had side titles," much like an opera is super-titled.
One thing that was initially hard to get used to was the way the Japanese respond to a show.
In the States, when the troupe ends a large production number, it just kind of freezes and waits for the applause, then moves on, Massey said. "But the Japanese audiences don't really applaud for those. They think it's rude to interrupt the show. And even the curtain call, they won't even applaud then. After the curtain goes down, they listen to the exit music, which is when you're supposed to be leaving. After it's over, then they just erupt in wild, raucous applause.
"Usually, by the time they were screaming, we were off the stage, changing our clothes. It got to the point where they made us stay on stage so we could see that, because some people were like, "they don't like our play" when really they loved it."
One thing that might seem hard to do but really isn't involves working on different stages from week to week.
"We're actually really good at adapting to the spaces, just because we do it so often," Massey said. "We actually have an A version of the show, a B version of the show, and a C version of the show, and when we get to a space we're to a point where we're like 'Version B, do it' and we do that version. That just involves cutting a few people here and there if the stage is smaller or if there are different depths to the stage."
Despite the fact that 42nd Street is a fun-filled evening, there was some sadness in late December when actor Jerry Orbach died. Orbach, known for his role on Law & Order and in movies such as Dirty Dancing, originated the role of Julian Marsh in 1980.
"It's neat that he got that kind of acclaim and recognition from the TV audiences, but as far as we're concerned, he was a song-and-dance man, he was a Tony Award winner (for Promises, Promises), he was one of us."
Theater League opens "42nd Street" Thursday in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Feb. 13. Tickets range for $32.50 to $41.50. Information: 419-381-8851.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6130.