In 42nd Street, young Peggy Sawyer arrives in New York City fresh off the bus from small-town Pennsylvania with her tap shoes and dreams of stardom.
For Theatre Under the Stars’ Paige Fraser, it was more like fresh off the ferry. But she’s the first to admit her own experience isn’t that far removed from that of the lead character she’ll play all summer long at Malkin Bowl.
“I feel some kinship with her about how badly you have to want this to make it work,” the triple-threat singer, dancer, and actor tells the Straight, speaking over the phone before heading to Stanley Park for rehearsal.
“We’re both small-town girls. I’m from northern Vancouver Island and I came here to do theatre,” adds the native of Black Creek, near Courtenay, where she started early in musical theatre before moving on to tap lessons in her teens. “I get that feeling of having to leave all that behind in order to do this. There’s nothing else to do! You have to have a thick skin and an open, beating heart. So I get where she’s coming from. She’s 21; when I came over to Cap [Capilano University for musical theatre] I turned 18 my first day and I definitely had stars in my eyes.”
That’s not the only background experience Fraser brings to the retro song-and-dance classic, though. You could say she knows the story of the chorus girl who finally gets her big break from the inside out. At Studio 58, where she headed after graduating from Cap, she worked on the same musical’s sets last year—part of the well-known Langara College theatre program’s all-round approach to the art form. Consequently, she got to know the behind-the-scenes musical from behind the scenes.
“To see the sets and say, ‘I built that with my own hands!’…I had fallen in love with the show working on it, building the proscenium arch and the props,” she says. “That gives you a full appreciation of all that goes into making the show, which is so much what 42nd Street is all about. So many people work so hard to make sure every single element is perfect.”
It’s hard work lightening audiences’ moods—and it’s a job Fraser takes quite seriously. “Especially for this style and this era, it’s about spectacle and lifting people’s spirits. In the ’30s, that was a huge part of why people were going to the theatre,” says Fraser, referring to the era when the musical is set—and when the Hollywood movie it was based on was made. “The parallels with today are hard to ignore. From my perspective, it’s why I do theatre: so people can have a laugh.”
And there the parallels with 42nd Street go again. After all, director Julian Marsh does tell young Peggy Sawyer, “You’ve got to go on, and you’ve got to give and give and give.”
Theatre Under the Stars presents 42nd Street from Wednesday (July 4) to August 18 at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park.