’42nd Street’ comes to Eisenhower Avenue

It is the quintessential musical, exemplifying not only what Broadway did for patrons during its setting of the Great Depression, but today, as well.

The show overall is summed up in the finale that “comes from the desperation of the Depression and shows how it is an example of escapism,” said Kara Gibson Slocum, who plays diva Dorothy Brock. “That moment is an encapsulation of what Broadway is: Two hours where you don’t have to think about your grocery list and your bills.”

The musical about a musical, “42nd Street,” is coming to the Eisenhower Auditorium stage at Penn State University in University Park on Jan. 17.

The national tour, Slocum’s first, kicked off the day after Christmas and will wend through 57 cities over the next six months. In addition to University Park, the show is scheduled for Indiana University at Pennsylvania’s Fisher Auditorium on March 30 (Visit www.iup.edu/livelyarts/theater/ for details on that show).

Penn State’s Center for the Performing Arts (CPA) brings regular Broadway performances to the Eisenhower because they are so popular among the campus and the wider community, said Laura Sullivan, marketing and communications director. This upcoming show will appeal to its traditional audience owing to its “classic tap numbers and flashy show tunes,” she said. Other touring shows coming to the Eisenhower this year are “Pippin,” “Once,” “Rent” and “Annie.”

Sullivan said “42nd Street” is “well on its way to a sell-out” at Eisenhower, but some tickets are available.

“Recognizable numbers like ‘We’re In the Money,’ ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo,’ ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ and  the title song make ’42nd Street’ a perennial favorite,” she added of the tap dance extravaganza that is like a reality show filled with backstage drama centered around the American dream of becoming a star.

Playing Brock, Slocum is the heavy hitter with five solos, including the character’s signature song, “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

“It’s just beautiful,” she said. “We were doing the orchestration yesterday, and it just makes that song come alive. It’s a big moment for me and her.”

Is the actress a diva like the character she plays?

“There’s a little diva in every great woman, isn’t there?” Slocum asked, with a laugh. “I get to embrace that every night.”

But even divas like Dorothy have a “tender side,” and it becomes apparent in the show, she said.

Slocum said she is a better dancer than her character — she just danced through a run of “Anything Goes” in a regional theater near her Los Angeles home. So, even though she doesn’t dance much in “42nd Street,” she appreciates the art.

“Our tap line is phenomenal,” she said. “It is fun to stand onstage in front of them and hear all the tapping behind. It’s such a happy sound.”

A California native and theater school graduate, Slocum has credits for regional theater all over the Golden State, including Velma in “Hairspray” and Nancy in “Oliver.” This is her first national tour, and she already is prepared to extend it past the scheduled six-month run.

“I am so impressed with the talent level” of the cast and crew, she said.

Based on a novel by Bradford Ropes and Busby Berkeley’s 1933 movie, “42nd Street” was originally produced on Broadway in 1980 and played for 3,486 performances. It won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Choreography. A revival opened in 2001, played for 1,524 performancees and earned two Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical.

The touring production includes direction and choreography by the team that staged the revival.

“Literally, we take the same production to every town,” Slocum said. “The creative team from the revival … are still here with us and have put their brains into what we’re doing.”

That is why national tours are as good as going to Broadway, she said, and they have become more popular since about 2000 because “not everyone can get to New York City.”

“There has become a growing market for Broadway shows to go on tour so more people can see them,” she said. “We take lighting, sets, choreographer, sometimes part of the (Broadway) cast and crew so more people can see more theater, great theater.”

An informal moderated discussion featuring one of the visiting cast members will be held in the Eisenhower one hour before the performance and is free for ticket holders. It typically fills to capacity, and seating is available on a first-arrival basis.

Mirror Life Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.

If you go

What: “42nd Street”

When: 7:30 p.m., Jan. 17

Where: Penn State’s Center for Performing Arts, Eisenhower Auditorium

Admission: $39-$65, based on age and seat location

Tickets/More info: www.CPA.PSU.edu