'42nd Street' chooga choogas in Holland

ROTTERDAM, Holland — Saturday night at this riverside city’s Luxor Theater, and a sellout crowd of some 900 people have ponied up as much as 97.5 guilders ($37) to watch Peggy Sawyer and entourage “chooga chooga chooga” off to Buffalo.

Where are we? A packed performance of the Dutch bus-and-truck tour of “42nd Street,” in which the language may not be readily comprehensible to most foreigners (though “chooga chooga” is a nice approximation of “shuffle off”) but the arc of a soon-to-be-revived Broadway touchstone of the 1980s most definitely is.

Despite the presence in both of Dutch investment, this $2 million touring incarnation of the show — which opened Sept. 17 in Amsterdam — is not to be confused with the same musical’s far costlier imminent Broadway revival. That venture, led by Dodger Theatricals, is planned for the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in April.

Though the New York version, like the Dutch one, is being directed by the musical’s co-author, Mark Bramble, the production I caught on the Continent one recent weekend is intended purely for Holland’s home market.

So what if it features a Peggy Sawyer in Dutch TV actress Angela Schijf who is so adorable that one wishes she could be transported intact across the Atlantic? (Among other things, Schijf possesses the blessedly uncloying pertness of a young Debbie Reynolds.)

The fact is, it’s constantly fascinating watching shows specific to one market and country ply their wares in another. There can’t have been too many in the audience that October night who could pinpoint Buffalo, not to mention Allentown, Penn., on a map. But when injury forced Mariska van Kolck’s unusually youthful Dorothy Brock out of “42nd Street’s” show-within-a-show, one can be equally sure that everyone was rooting for unknown chorine Peggy to go out on stage and come back a star.

That Schijf apparently already is one may deprive this “42nd Street” of a degree of suspense, though I am reliably informed that — for a Dutch audience, at least — the novelty rests in seeing her sing and dance.

At the same time, spectators from any country could appreciate the addition to the Harry Warren/Al Dubin score of “I Only Have Eyes for You” in order to beef up the vocal demands on Dorothy.

Maggie Jones, too, has always been this show’s plum supporting role, and so it proved in the capable hands of Gerrie van der Klei, her large eyes integral to a look that any German Expressionist painter would love. “42nd Street” scholars will note that Maggie now sings “Keep Young and Beautiful,” though only those with photographic Broadway recall will miss the absence of a fashion plate or two from this musical’s giddy costume parade, “Dames.”

Had I got to Holland a weekend earlier, a visit to “42nd Street” could have been followed by one to “Rent,” another Broadway smash that constitutes a hymn to New York.

Both shows are produced by the prolific Amsterdam-based Stage Holding, the Joop van den Ende-owned entertainment group that split from one-time parent company Endemol in October 1998. (Last month, Stage Holding signed up both “Aida” and “The Lion King” for premieres in 2001 in Continental Europe: Expect a “Lion King” bow next fall in Hamburg.)

But back to “Rent”: Director Ivo van Hove’s apparently projection-heavy Dutch premiere of the Jonathan Larson musical had opened Oct. 3 in Amsterdam and, three weeks later, was already on hiatus.

That’s not uncommon, apparently, in the Netherlands, where “Rent” is skedded to tour on and off for eight months or so. Van Hove continues to find an Off Broadway home at Larson’s one-time berth: His production of Susan Sontag’s “Alice In Bed” opened Nov. 5 at New York Theater Workshop where, of course, “Rent” began.

In Holland, meanwhile, the market for Anglo-American product looks buoyant, whether straight play mainstays (“The Mousetrap,” of all things, which opened Nov. 5) or global musical worldbeaters — “Chicago,” currently playing an open-ended run at the Beatrix Theater in Utrecht. (“Humor, snel, en sexy,” promises the local ad, two-thirds of which speaks volumes in any language.) This coming June, “Saturday Night Fever” has a local go.

Also doing the current circuit are erstwhile Off Broadway entries “Visiting Mr. Green” (“Op bezoek bij Meneer Green“) and “Collected Stories” (“Verzameld Werk“). The former play never even got to London (though it was produced at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds), while the latter was a West End flop.

Perhaps Holland regards certain kinds of American fare more kindly than London does. Speaking of regards, an appreciative Rotterdam audience gave theirs to Broadway that late-October evening, since “42nd Street” taps into a nostalgia for a vanished New York theater that needs no translation.

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