42 YEARS OF MEMORIES FROM THE CAST OF 42ND STREET
DO40 prez John Sefakis with cast and crew members of the original 42nd Street: Joel Blum, Nikki Sahagen, Karin Baker, Lee Roy Reams, Tony Parise, Lars Rosager, Cathy Greco, Linda Carelli, Carole Banninger and Arturo Porazzi
It was quite a memorable night at the Triad Theater, Wednesday, August 24th where Dancers over 40 celebrated the 42nd Anniversary and Reunion of the original Broadway cast of 42nd Street. DO40’s first “official” panel & performance was a celebration of Gower Champion in 2008, and then a David Merrick event in 2019 which featured the cast. Of course COVID prevented a real 40th anniversary of the show – so when former DO40 board member Karin Baker suggested we step in and celebrate the cast – who were we to turn her down (she is extremely persistent)?!?!
Hosted by that perky, peripatetic performer Lee Roy Reams, the cast revealed personal, intimate and moving stories of their lives during auditions and the run of the show, how Gower Champion’s death affected them, and how a glitch in stage management (as per SM Arturo Porazzi) became the iconic opening tap dance tableau! Some cast members were still in high school when hired, others twice their age when they went into the show. And of course, Lee Roy offered up tasty stories (and imitations!) of Tammy Grimes and Carole Cook (still with us at 98!) 42nd Street publicist Josh Ellis handed the Q & A portion of the evening, passed forward from the audience an answered by the cast. And we wonder where that $25,000.00 gown is that was worn ONCE and then cut from the show!?!?
And from our wonderful accompanist, Fred Barton, he wrote what he felt was the most moving story of the evening, a very emotional moment from Karin Baker (Gower Champion's dance assistant, who actually devised the specific tap steps for his vision). She recalled the last time she saw Gower. He had stopped coming to rehearsal, mainly because of his severe illness (the severity was kept secret from the cast and the public) – and partly because of David Merrick's peculiar game of persistently delaying and postponing the opening
The cast not exactly “going into their dance!”
For a long stretch, Merrick kept the public out and had the entire cast run the show for an audience of one – himself, sitting out there alone in the orchestra section of the Winter Garden Theatre. The day before what turned out to be show's opening, Karin Baker got a call from Gower's wife Karla, telling her that he requested her to visit him in the hospital. She went, and was absolutely shocked to find him very near death – one look and she knew "he was simply not going to make it." He couldn't speak, and tried to make himself understood, and she did the best she could with the situation – she just assured him the show was about to be a giant hit and everything was great. (Only later did she find out he was trying to say, "Did the show open yet?")
Then she described walking to the hospital room door – and turning to look at him one more time, he winked at her. And she never saw him again. At that moment, Karin got a catch in her throat and the tears began, as they did for many of us hearing this previously unknown story.
On hand were SM Arturo Porazzi, Gower Champion assistant Karin Baker, Carole Banninger, Linda Carelli, Denise DiRenzo, Joel Blum, Cathy Greco, Nikki Sahagen, Alison Sherve and co-conspirators in organizing the shindig for DO40 Tony Parise and Lars Rosager. In the audience, lots of theater and dance folk, including Karin Akers, Sydney Myer, Harry Haun, DO40 members Patti Mariano, Annie Johnson, Darlene Larson, Ken Bloom, Josh Ellis, Backstage Babble honcho and youngest member Charles Kirsch, DO40 board members Patrick McCarthy, Sasha Spielvogel, Lawrence Leritz, Sharon Wendrow and Leni Anders.
Lee Roy Reams with Gower assistant Karin Baker
We celebrated birthday boys Lee Roy Reams and Harry Haun with cakes and (a few) candles (!!!) and joined in a champagne toast at the end of the evening to celebrate the cast – and honor those who are no longer with us. The evening ended with Lee Roy leading the cast in a rousing Lullaby of Broadway, with musical accompaniment by Fred Barton.
This is what we do. Celebrate and promote the History, Legacy and Lives of the mature dance community while paying it forward to the next generation – who can learn from our panels and performances, which are all taped and sent to the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
“Official” photos to come soon! These are just iPhone clicks from audience members.
Packing up to leave the Triad Theater, with Linda Carelli, Lee Roy Reams, Lars Rosager, Charles Kirsch, Patrick McCarthy, Leni Anders, Tony Parise and Sharon Wendrow