Lee Roy Reams, who originated the role of Billy Lawlor in the Tony Award-winning 1980 Broadway musical 42nd Street, will bring that show back to life in a solo concert October 6 and 7 at 7 PM at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York City.
In Lee Roy Reams Celebrates 42nd Street, Reams is promising to perform virtually the entire Harry Warren-Al Dubin score, including “Lullaby of Broadway,” “We’re In The Money,” and the iconic title song.
“It’s one of my favorite shows,” he told Playbill. “I spent eight shows a week for almost eight years of my life in it, and I love all the people love I worked with, and I just thought it would be fun to celebrate the show, and sing all the songs from it. The score is by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, and it doesn’t get better than that! I plan to talk about the show, the stars, [the producer] David Merrick. I’m planning to have some of my friends who, over the years, come to see all my shows, so we can all celebrate.”
First as a dancer, then as a featured player, Reams built a Broadway résumé that includes Sweet Charity, Applause, Lorelei, La Cage aux Folles, Beauty and the Beast, and The Producers. In addition to appearing in the original cast of Hello, Dolly!, Reams has directed productions around the U.S., and even played the title role in drag in a Florida production. He says he doesn’t think he could sell enough tickets to take over the role in the current Broadway production, but joked that he’d happily play Tuesday evenings à la Donna Murphy, if Nathan Lane takes over as Dolly.
Reams was there on the stage of the Winter Garden on the opening night of 42nd Street when Merrick announced to an amused, then shocked, then grief-stricken audience that the show’s director, Gower Champion, had died earlier the same day.
“It was shocking,” Reams recalls. “We had no inkling whatsoever. We knew Gower was in the hospital, and we knew that he was ill. We did not know he was dying. We found out when everyone else did.”
However, in retrospect, Reams doesn’t think the move was exploitative. “There are two schools of thought on this. A lot of people thought we’d been taken advantage of, to show our grief [in public] that way. But at the same time David Merrick is one of the great producers ever. Suddenly we had publicity across the nation. The Gower Champion estate got a lot of money from the show being such a success, so it was fine with me. [Champion] was one of the true geniuses of the theatre and we are all so grateful that we had that experience. And it was a big hit.”
The original production ran 3,486 performances, and is still the 14th-longest-running show in Broadway history. It began life as the 1933 Hollywood film musical. When it was adapted to the stage in the early 1980s it retained its Depression-era setting and sound—not necessarily a guarantee of success in the 1980s.
Why did the old songs do so well a half century on? “The basic story works,” Reams says. “People will always respond to “that story of the youngster coming in and replacing the [ailing] star on opening night.”
But the real secret is the evergreen songs. “That’s why the show lasted so long and why I enjoy singing them so much. Warren and Dubin were two of the unsung heroes of Hollywood.”
One song that will be added to this concert is “I Only Have Eyes for You,” which was interpolated into the show for its 2001 revival, replacing “I Know Now.” Christine Ebersole sang it, and won a Tony Award for her performance.
Reams says, “‘I Only Have Eyes for You‘ to me is a is a great song, a more melodic song, and the lyric fit the scene better. And now I get to sing it!”
Feinstein’s/54 Below is located at 254 West 54th Street, beneath Studio 54, in Manhattan. Tickets, which cost $40 to $85 (plus a $25 food/drink minimum), can be ordered here.
Reams also recently announced that he will be appearing at the 7 PM show on New Year’s Eve at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Tickets go on sale to Club 54 members at noon October 9. Tickets go on sale to the general public at noon on October 12.