The quintessential "backstage" musical, 42nd Street traces the history of a Broadway musical comedy, from casting call to opening night. Warner Baxter plays famed director Julian Marsh, who despite failing health is determined to stage one last great production, "Pretty Lady." Others involved include "Pretty Lady" star Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels); Dorothy's "sugar daddy" (Guy Kibbee), who finances the show; her true love Pat (George Brent); leading man Billy Lawlor (Dick Powell); and starry-eyed chorus girl Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler). It practically goes without saying that Dorothy twists her ankle the night before the premiere, forcing Julian Marsh is to put chorine Peggy into the lead: "You're going out there a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" Delightfully corny, with hilarious wisecracking support from the likes of Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel, and George E. Stone, 42nd Street is perhaps the most famous of Warners' early-1930s Busby Berkeley musicals. Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes (which was a lot steamier than the movie censors would allow), 42nd Street is highlighted by such grandiose musical setpieces as "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "Young and Healthy," and of course the title song. Nearly fifty years after its premiere, it was successfully revived as a Broadway musical with Tammy Grimes and Jerry Orbach.
by Hal Erickson synopsis