Street Dreams

Hard times call for vacuous stage shows, and the Palace is happy to oblige.

Nothing really happens in 42nd Street. There's plenty of dancing and singing in Mark Bramble and Michael Stewart's tribute to 1930s musicals, but there's little actual plot. And no one really seems to mind.

"It's like getting hit by a train," admits Robert Spring, who plays Billy Lawlor in the Tony-winning revival at the Palace Theatre. "It's like a steamroller -- it just keeps going and going and going."

What story there is follows a small-town chorus dancer who, by chance, becomes a star. But the narrative's a mere excuse for the lavish set pieces, which include dozens of tap-dancing feet and grand Busby Berkeley-style fantasies. "At any given time, there are 35 or more people onstage," Spring says. "It's such a big ensemble show, and everyone's working together."

Gathering material from '30s-era star-is-born, mega-choreographed extravaganzas such as Gold Diggers of 1933, Dames, and the 1933 film 42nd Street, the Broadway version of 42nd Street debuted in 1980 and ran eight years. When it was revived in 2000, critics initially scoffed at its relatively quick rebirth. A year later, it snagged a Tony for Best Musical Revival, as well as several top critics' awards.

"The show is a little bit different than the '80s version," Spring explains, rattling off songs that were added to the revival. "I think it's a great time for the show to be on the road. It's a good release for everyone to see something that's very light and filled with American ideals."

It's also a good release for the New York native. "This show is therapeutic," he says. "I always leave the theater feeling better, whether I'm [performing] or just watching it.

"And because it takes place during the Depression, people are overcoming the odds and coming together to make something great out of hard times. That's relevant, more than ever."