42nd Street

Original Broadway Production (1980)

Trivia & History

The production was in world headlines the day after opening when David Merrick announced onstage at the end of curtain calls on opening night that director Gower Champion had died earilier that day. Arguably, this event contributed to the show’s success.

On opening night, the credit for book writers Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble read "Lead-Ins and Crossovers by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble." This greatly displeased the writers. Producer David Merrick may have done this with the intention of annoying them. Not too long after the opening, the credit was changed to say "Book by." This was done by January 1981.

After a five-week tryout at the Kennedy Center Opera House, the production was supposed to start previews at the Winter Garden on August 2 and open on August 11. The production had been a box-office success at the Kennedy Center, where it opened with almost no advance sale and ended up doing extremely well, even without being part of a subscription series (New York Times on July 29, 1980). It had set a house-record at the Kennedy Center (New York Times, August 9, 1980). But the start of previews was canceled, and the production went back into rehearsals.

Although some online sources list the start of previews as having been August 18, previews seem to have actually started on August 15, even though on that day Merrick put out a press release saying that previews would start on August 22. Three days before there was supposed to have been a public preview, for which tickets had been sold only at the half-price TKTS booth. But the smallish audience — about 200 tickets had been sold at the booth — was sent home when a member of Merrick's staff informed him that a freelance writer, Cliff Jahr, who had been assigned by the New York Times to write an article on the show was in the house. Merrick announced that there was "a snake in the house," and the audience was told that they could exchange their tickets for a later date.

Less than a year into the run, David Merrick moved the production from the Winter Garden to the Majestic because the Majestic had more seats and in particular more orchestra seats, allowing the production, which was selling out, to make more money.

Gower Champion had specifically wanted the show to play in the Winter Garden with its wide stage. He designed the musical numbers for that wide stage. Had he still been alive, he probably would have fought the move.

Several years later, when business had begun to run down, the production moved across the street to the St. James to make way for Phantom of the Opera to play at the Majestic. The St. James has an unusually narrow stage for such a big house, and this probably would have made Champion particularly angry. Numbers in which the performers were meant to be spread out across the stage were now being performed with the performers much closer together.

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