42nd Street: The First Complete Recording

Kurt Gänzl
Operetta Research Center
3 March, 2022

I have just been on a very, very happy trip down memory boulevard. For a couple of years of my youthful life I was the casting director for the original production of the London version of 42nd Street. I enjoyed it hugely. How many hundreds … thousands, even … of little girls, of vastly varying degrees of tapping ability passed through the audition stage at Drury Lane … I don’t like to think about what became of them all. But I know one is a senior ABC news reporter.

The cover of the original Broadway cast album of "42nd Street", the production by David Merrick.

The cover of the original Broadway cast album of “42nd Street”, the production by David Merrick. (Photo: RCA)

Re-casting principals was a little more complex. Producer, Helen Montague, liked ‘names’. Company manager Bill Cronshaw, I and dance captain Alison liked just plain ‘people who could do it’. But we got on fine. For, let’s face it 42nd Street doesn’t need star names to lopside it. The stars of the show are the dancing and the wonderful orchestrations.

So, let’s get on to this new, queen-sized recording. In which, I might as well say, the orchestrations (but I can SEE the dancing, in my mind’s eye, back through the decades!), the orchestra and their conductor are again, as they always have been, the shining stars.

I have worked with the amazing John Yap of JAY Records since before he was JAY Records. In the ’80s I wrote sleeve notes for his previous label, and most recently I wrote linking narrative for his lovely complete edition of The Dancing Years. So, will friendship get in the way of what I have to say about this latest issue? Not on your Peggy Sawyer!

The 2022 release of "42 Street" (Photo: Jay Records)

The 2022 release of “42 Street” (Photo: Jay Records)

I can say, right away, that I loved this recording. Many of the performers (this recording was made in the 20th century) are veterans of the show in America, and, sadly, only occasionally, Britain. Danielle Carson, star of London’s Singin in the Rain, is in the chorus! I don’t suppose anyone from the slightly painful US touring production (featuring Elizabeth Allen), which I flew out to see in Vienna, is included!

However, as the ex-caster who (once) defied David Merrick, I have my stout opinions on how the parts should be sung. Well, in this issue, we get a glimpse of acting in the various pieces of deliciously two-dimensional dialogue that are included. And we hear the taps that made the show the claquette-show of the era … But I guess the singing is, with the orchestra, mainly what I and we get to judge.

Operetta researcher Kurt Gänzl in Australia, were he spends the summers. (Photo: Private)

Operetta researcher Kurt Gänzl in Australia, were he spends the summers. (Photo: Private)

I’m not going to speak of the individual performers. As I said, they are not the features. There is the odd err .. stretched voice (this music doesn’t need high notes), and a bit of bad taste from the Dorothy (track 3), but otherwise the show, the story, and the music is throughout delivered in impeccable style by all. And oh! that band! (Listen to it here.)

And how does the mix of dialogue and musical numbers work? Pretty well, in my opinion. The main plot elements are well covered, so the whole double-disc has a sense of backbone and story to it. I think I could do without the odd 30 secs of underscoring to floating phrases of dialogue, but if you are going to be ‘complete’, I guess what is here is ‘complete’.

You can pick away at anything (‘Mr Merrick, Brock should be under forty’. Lost that one. ‘Mr Merrick, I know you think she’s sexy but she’s a mediocre singer and dancer’. Won that one).

Poster for the 1933 movie version of "42nd Street". (Photo: Warner Bros.)

Poster for the 1933 movie version of “42nd Street”. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

Memories. Of a grand, grand show. Pure entertainment. Pure fun. When the world was middle-aged and musical theatre didn’t have to be ‘meaningful’.

I shall put this whole thing on again, while I have my pre-cocktail shower, and drift happily backwards in time … to Drury Lane … for, apart from those one or two blooplets I mentioned, this recording portrays the show, just as it was all those years ago, in all its winning glory!

For more details and sound samples, click here.

There are 3 comments

  1. Jon Maas

    As David Merrick’s assistant on the original production, I also supervised the original cast recording, so I think I know every note of this score. Sadly, this “new” release does not measure up in any way and even worse gives no indication of what appeared on the stage of the Winter Garden. I could go into endless reasons why but it would make me seem like a John Simon wannabe.