All the songs in '42nd Street'
Learn more about the classic songs in the Golden Age musical, including "Dames," "We're in the Money," and "Lullaby of Broadway." 42nd Street opens at Sadler's Wells.
We only have eyes for the joyful musical 42nd Street, which taps its way back into London this summer. Jonathan Church’s Leicester Curve revival is transferring to Sadler’s Wells in June — a chance for even more audiences to come and meet those dancing feet.
Although the 1933 Hollywood film is set in 1930s Depression-era New York, 42nd Street only became a stage musical in 1980. Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book uses songs by Al Dubin, Johnny Mercer, and Harry Warren — from the original movie and beyond. It was an immediate hit, winning Tony and Olivier Awards for Best Musical.
The story follows small-town girl Peggy Sawyer, who gets cast in the new Broadway musical Pretty Lady, directed by the fearsome Julian Marsh. The star of the show is prima donna Dorothy Brock; her wealthy beau has bankrolled the production. But when disaster strikes and the leading lady can no longer take centre stage, Peggy must step up from ingenue to star.
42nd Street is the ultimate backstage musical. It celebrates what happens in the theatre and is a love letter to the tireless chorus who power these shows. Plus, it’s particularly beloved for its radiant score and full-scale dance routines. Learn about the show with our guide to the 42nd Street songs.
Book 42nd Street tickets on London Theatre.
“Young and Healthy”
42nd Street often blurs the boundaries between performance and real life. This jaunty duet is a prime example: it’s a number from Pretty Lady, but it also shows the burgeoning connection between a nervous Peggy, who turns up late to auditions, and flirtatious juvenile lead Billy Lawlor.
This lilting piece cleverly sets up lots of plot points. Julian demands that Dorothy audition for him with the song, which she eventually — and reluctantly — does. He then begins to figure out how to stage such numbers given Dorothy’s dance restrictions, using lights to create shadowy silhouettes. Finally, the wistful romantic lyrics don’t reflect Dorothy’s feelings for her sugar daddy, Aber. However, they hint at her secret romance with vaudevillian Pat Denning.
“Go into Your Dance”
Pretty Lady’s co-creator Maggie Jones and some of the chorus girls take Peggy for a frugal tea (the show is frank about the financial realities of the Depression). They also share their philosophy in this peppy song: if you’re feeling blue, take solace in dance. Plus, it’s your way into a Broadway chorus — as Peggy, who shows off her lightning-fast tapping here, soon discovers.
“You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me”
Another romantic number from Pretty Lady — which, despite its bouncy rhythm, beautifully expresses the utterly addictive qualities of love. Again, it feels like Dorothy is singing about Pat here, even though it’s Aber watching in rehearsal and objecting to Billy kissing her as part of the show.
“Getting Out of Town”
Even travel is a reason for a cheery number, as the whole company packs up and heads to Philadelphia for their out-of-town tryout. My favourite silly rhyming segment? “I’m wearin’ my hat and coat. / I’m leavin’ the cat a note. / Quick, call me a ferry-boat.” Can’t forget to keep the cat updated on your rehearsal schedule…
A meta song within Pretty Lady, and somewhat within 42nd Street too, this jokey number — led by Billy, and soon backed by all the men — argues that audiences don’t care about the writer or the plot; they just want to see “those beautiful dames.” Well, these kinds of musical comedies are arguably somewhat nonsensical story-wise, but you have to marvel at the incredible performers delivering these big song-and-dance numbers.
“Keep Young and Beautiful”
Another song that’s not exactly politically correct, this song is the girls’ response to “Dames.” Maggie counsels the female chorus members that they must stay young and beautiful to be loved. Er, well. Try to ignore that messaging and focus on more spectacular dancing: the last time 42nd Street was in the West End, this number gave us a fabulous Busby Berkeley set-piece involving a giant mirror.
“I Only Have Eyes For You”
This soaring ballad sees Dorothy fully expressing her love for Pat — not through Pretty Lady, just on her own. Its melancholy edge captures her mixed feelings at this point: Julian is determined to keep them apart, lest it anger Aber and jeopardise the show. At the same time, a jealous Dorothy has misconstrued Pat’s relationship with Peggy after finding them together.
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
We’re back to Pretty Lady with this sultry tango-esque number — although its dramatic emotional landscape (it opens with “Misery! Heartache! Sorrow!”) also captures some of Dorothy’s mood, making it another cleverly layered number.
“We’re in the Money”
This upbeat song, featuring urchins discovering a coin in the street, is part of Pretty Lady’s grand opening. But it all goes horribly wrong when Peggy accidentally trips Dorothy, who is seriously injured — and Julian furiously fires Peggy. Can the show be saved? Come back for Act Two!
“Sunny Side to Every Situation”
Anyone who’s ever struggled with money (especially those with precarious jobs in the arts) will recognise their plight in this wryly witty song. It sounds chirpy, and the lyrics are all about looking on the bright side — “You’ve no dough, so relax, / You don’t have to pay an income tax” — but there’s genuine fear and worry beneath them. No Pretty Lady means a whole company out of work.
“Lullaby of Broadway”
The chorus girls have the solution: why doesn’t Julian cast Peggy in the lead, replacing an injured Dorothy? She’s a terrific dancer, after all. But this plan necessitates Julian — followed by everyone else — dashing to the train station and persuading a downbeat Peggy, via this fabulously bombastic love letter to Broadway, to take the risk.
“About a Quarter to Nine”
Surprising everyone, Dorothy rescues an exhausted Peggy from her relentless rehearsals and offers her advice on how to perform this sweet, playful love song from the show. Again it reflects where the two women are: Peggy is maturing and perhaps developing feelings for Julian, while Dorothy is surprisingly happy being out of the show because she can finally devote herself to Pat.
“With Plenty of Money and You”
We’re off! The last section of 42nd Street gives us incredible highlights of Pretty Lady during its big Broadway opening. Can Peggy handle the pressure? She starts well during this stylish tap number, backed by the chorus boys.
“Shuffle Off to Buffalo”
Peggy gets a break here, as her pal Annie and the show’s co-creators Maggie and Bert (a great comic double act), lead a very goofy number about newlyweds trying to have their honeymoon night on a sleeper train — plus a sneak peek at what married life might be like. It’s a cute contrast to the more tortured romantic songs and gives the audience a breather.
“42nd Street” is the mighty title song – and Peggy’s colossal test. If she nails this, then Pretty Lady will be a winner. It’s an incredible number that just keeps growing, from its moody beginning, observing the mix of people on 42nd Street (“Where the underworld can meet the elite”), through to a full-throttle ensemble tap number up and down a grand staircase, led by Peggy — who has indeed blossomed into a star.
“42nd Street (Reprise)”
Showing she’s still a chorus girl, Peggy decides to go to the “kids’ party” instead of a posh post-show affair. But will she have a date? Both Billy and Julian are smitten — and she’s helped the latter to rediscover his love for musical theatre. That love triangle is left hanging, but as Julian reprises the show’s triumphant number, you get the sense that he’s heading to Peggy’s party. Or at least he’ll be back again soon, crafting another uplifting show around her for us all to enjoy.
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