42nd Street tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a talented young performer with stars in her eyes who gets her big break on Broadway.
Peggy arrives to New York City from her hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania, armed with her tap shoes and big dreams. Peggy’s talent catches the eye of legendary Broadway director Julian Marsh, who gives her a spot in the chorus of Pretty Lady, his newest show. Pretty Lady stars Dorothy Brock, the classic Broadway diva, who takes an instant dislike to the new girl in the cast. When Dorothy is injured during the show’s previews, Pretty Lady looks like it will have to close, unless a new girl talented enough to lead the show can be found — someone like Peggy Sawyer!
Peggy’s rise from showgirl to star is the stuff of show business dreams. 42nd Street is full of crowd-pleasing tap dances, popular musical theatre standards, and show-stopping ensemble production numbers.
It begins just as the auditions for a fictitious Broadway musical, Pretty Lady, are drawing to a close. One young dancer, Peggy Sawyer, has not made it to the auditions on time but, luckily for her, her unceremonious entrance has caught the eye of the show’s leading man, Billy Lawlor, who promises to help her secure or audition. Unfortunately, the director is too busy to deal with latecomers. The same goes for revered producer – Julian Marsh, who arrives to give his pre-rehearsal pep-talk. Peggy is ordered to leave the theatre and shortly after, the star of the show, veteran leading lady Dorothy Brock, arrives with her sugar-daddy, Abner Dillon. Dorothy is proving to be something of a headache for producer Marsh. She has only landed the starring role because Dillon is the show’s principal backer, and is therefore determined to play the role of star up to the hilt. However, her petulance and threats to walk out, taking Dillon’s cash with her, hold little sway with the producer, who will not be ordered about by anyone. Eventually Dorothy does start to rehearse, albeit sulkily.
During a break in rehearsals, Dorothy meets Pat Denning, an ex-lover end partner from her vaudeville days. She is still in love with him but does not want to risk the situation she has with the rich Abner Dillon, and the starring role in Pretty Lady that goes with it. Dorothy and Denning arrange to meet only when Dillon is not around.Meanwhile, Peggy has returned to the theatre to collect her purse, which she had forgotten during her hurried exit, There she is invited by some of the other dancers to lunch at a nearby tea-room. The girls decide to dance to the tea-room, and Peggy joins in, showing that she con manage even the most difficult dance steps.
After lunch, the group dance back to the theatre where they learn that the chorus is one girl short. The producer declares that he has a good mind to employ the first girl who comes past. Peggy realises that this is her chance and, to demonstrate her dancing ability, gives an impromptu performance right there in the street. Marsh is impressed and hires Peggy on the spot.
Billy and Dorothy Brock rehearse the love scene under the watchful eye of Abner Dillon. At one point, he insists that handshakes are substituted for kisses, Peggy, who hasn’t had sufficient time to prepare for her first dance number, makes a mess of the routine, causing Dorothy to lose her temper. Peggy faints and has to be taken to Dorothy’s dressing room to recover. There she is received by Denning, who is waiting to meet Dorothy. Unfortunately, Dorothy walks in just as Denning is administering to the unconscious Peggy. She is furious at what she sees. At this point Dillon barges in and Denning has to be passed off as Peggy’s boyfriend to avoid a scene. Meanwhile the producer is getting increasingly worried about Dorothy’s actions and the risks they pose to the show, so he arranges for a friendly gangster to run Denning out of town. Without saying goodbye to Dorothy, Denning ups and leaves for Philadelphia. Unknown to him, however, the out-of-town tryout of Pretty Lady has been rescheduled at the last minute – to Philadelphia!
At the final rehearsal, Dorothy gets annoyed at being left out of the big dance number. At a party that evening, she gets drunk end tells Dillon what she really thinks of him, before ringing around to try and find Denning. Marsh reacts by calling his gangster friend, but is overheard by Peggy, who rushes to warn Dorothy, only to find Denning waiting in Dorothy’s room. Again Dorothy appears and catches the two together and, in a fit of jealousy, orders them both to leave her alone. Miraculously, the show manages to open on time, and all seems to go well until Peggy is accidentally pushed into Dorothy’s path by another dancer. Dorothy falls and cannot get up. The curtain comes down, and the producer sacks Peggy on the spot. An announcement goes out that the performance has been abandoned.
Dorothy has broken her ankle and will not be able to continue. It seems as if the whole production will have to be cancelled. The dancers, aware that they will be out of a job, try to convince themselves that something can be done. Suddenly one of them has an idea: why not just replace Dorothy? They all agree that Peggy is the girl for the job and quickly convince Marsh, who decides to head back to New York and perform the show with Peggy in the lead role. The only problem is that Peggy has been sacked. Marsh rushes to Broad Street station, where he finds his potential leading lady despondent and ready to forget about a life in show business. Marsh tries to convince her with visions of Broadway, his words are echoed by the rest of the cast until, suddenly, Peggy agrees. She now has a mere 36 hours in which to learn all the songs and dance numbers, under Marsh’s unyielding direction. On the big day, she is visited by Dorothy, who explains how her broken ankle come as a blessing in disguise. It made her realise that love is more important then stardom She tells Peggy that she is now married to Denning, and wishes the new leading lady good luck.
That night Marsh wills Peggy onto the stage with the immortal words, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!” The performance is a tremendous success, and Peggy Sawyer is hailed as a new star of the stage. She is invited to a big party at the Ritz, but decides instead to go to the smaller party held by the chorus kids. And after the show she stays behind for a moment to thank the man who has made it all possible, Julian Marsh.
42nd Street Karaoke Backing Tracks: Overture & Opening, Audition Number, Young and Healthy, Shadow Walt, Go Into Your Dance,You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me, Getting Out of Town, Dames, I Know Now, We’re In the Money, Entr’acte,There’s a Sunny Side to Ev’ry Situation, Lullaby of Broadway, About a Quarter to Nine, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, 42nd Street, Finale Bows