News Column

Preview: '42nd Street' on tap for CLO opener

May 30, 2013


May 30--"42nd Street" is an early 1930s novel turned movie musical that has legs. Lots of 'em.

Besides all of those dancing feet the title song goes on about, the story has stood the test of time to be remade into a long-running 1980s Broadway musical and award-winning revival. Pittsburgh CLO produced the musical in 1985, '90, '96 and 2006, and opens spring 2013 on Friday with its latest production of the story of Peggy Sawyer, a naive girl with loads of talent who steps off the bus in New York and finds herself on the fast track to stage stardom.

The fellow who pushes her to the brink is hard-as-nails director Julian Marsh, a role that Patrick Ryan Sullivan has owned for a decade. He replaced Tom Wopat in the Broadway revival in 2003 and was with the national tour that came through Heinz Hall, and now he's back playing the guy audiences love to hate for CLO, his fourth production of the show with director Charles Repole and choreographer Michael Lichtefeld,

As Julian, Mr. Sullivan finds himself having to lure a distraught Peggy back to her rightful place on stage. His big number is "Lullaby of Broadway," and he has to muster the inspiration for the iconic line: "You're going out a youngster but you've got to come back a star!"

"Some of the writing of the show is terrific and the final speech, he gets to show how he's changed," Mr. Sullivan says. "I was lucky enough to be directed by [Michael Bramble], who wrote the Broadway show. And he said, 'You can be as big a jerk as you want to be throughout the show, as long as you deliver the last monologue.' It's so beautiful -- 'Be the kind of star that those little girls want you to be.' "

He pauses and adds, "It's even hard for me to say in an interview."

It's a sweet moment from a strapping guy who was a long-running Gaston in the original Broadway production of "Beauty and the Beast." That's two roles of characters with humongous egos, seemingly nothing like the guy who's talking about Julian's transformation and the enduring nature of "42nd Street."

Joey Fatone returns to Pittsburgh CLO in the role of Bert Barry, co-writer and producer of Julian's show, "Pretty Lady," after playing Franz Liebkind in "The Producers" in 2010. To get "Pretty Lady" made, Julian also has to work with prima donna Dorothy Brock (Broadway veteran Luba Mason) -- it's her name that gets him the financial backing to put on a big Broadway musical.

Then along comes naive Peggy, whose talent and determination catch the director off-guard. Their relationship demands that he has a Svengali quality, and Peggy gives Julian a new perspective -- but it doesn't change the fact that he's a tyrant through most of the show.

"My Julian is pretty harsh, in going with what Mark Bramble said. You're a task master; you're the engine in between the dance numbers that keeps it going, and then you get that scene at the end," Mr. Sullivan said. "You get to where the audience understands why he did what he did. And I don't think the audience should love Julian. By the time he gets to 'Lullaby of Broadway,' when he says, 'Sawyer,' at the top of that, I think he thinks that's all he has to say. She's going to just go, 'OK, I'll come back.' Instead the whole scene is him working to get her to come back."

Mr. Sullivan marveled at how the CLO production quickly is coming into tight focus, noting that this is the biggest ensemble and orchestra he's worked with since the New York production. His first order of business when he came to town, though, was getting to a Pirates game during the recent series against the Cubs. "I tried to get Penguins tickets, too, but that's impossible," he said.

The day after "42nd Street" closes, he will return to his native Florida where often returns for roles in Disney World's Maine State Music Theatre, and for the chance to be near his elderly parents. He notes with pride that his father, Charley, began acting at age 60 -- the older Joe in "Damn Yankees" dropped out of a production in which Patrick was playing young Joe, and father and son shared the role.

"I'm such a workaholic, and since I played Gaston, Disney has been great; they let me go whenever I need to go," he said. "I'm back at Disney for three weeks, and then I'm doing a production of 'Art' in July and a world premiere at the Orlando Shakespeare Festival in August of a play called 'The Cortez Method.' "

Right now, it's back to "42nd Street," which, in one of his favorite lyrics by Al Dubin, is described as: "The part of little old New York/That runs into Times Square. A crazy quilt that Wall Street Jack built ... I want to take you there."

It's a place where an ingenue's dreams of stardom are on the line and even a cynical curmudgeon such as Julian Marsh can reconnect with what made him fall in love with Broadway.

"It's about the journey of her becoming a star and his recapturing his theatrical heart," Mr. Sullivan said. "She says she meant to hold on to her dreams, and he says, 'So did I.' So he's obviously told her, 'I've let my dreams of what Broadway should be go.' And then when he gets to the last speech, he's dreaming again."

Sharon Eberson: or 412-263-1960


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