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Steel Pier

An American Fable in 2 Acts 20 scenes. Music & Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb: Book by David Thompson: Conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson Cover to OCR album

Richard Rodgers Theatre, Broadway - Opened April 24, 1997. Closed 28 June, 1997 (76 perfs)


Place: STEEL PIER, ATLANTIC CITY Time: August, 1933


Prelude: Stunt Pilot Bill Kelly lies face down on the ground, his flight jacket torn, a cloud of smoke hanging in the air over him. He manages to stand up, looking at a raffle ticket he holds in his hand. It's good for three weeks. Ethereal dancers in white moving through the shadows sprinkle sand on the ground to transport the scene to the beach at Atlantic City in 1933.

One-time celebrity Rita Racine is waiting for her partner so they can enter the dance marathon on the Steel Pier. Bill appears and watches Rita dancing in the surf. Known as "Lindy's Lovebird," Rita made her name as the first woman to kiss Lindbergh when he arrived back from France. Bill tells her he admired her singing act on the midway at the Trenton Air Show, but when he asks if she'll dance with him in the marathon, she tells him she's already got a partner. If he ever turns up. Bill goes off to find a partner of his own, while Rita sings of the home she'll return to after this one last marathon.

Inside the Steel Pier ballroom, Mick Hamilton, the Master of Ceremonies, gets the marathon underway. The rules: for forty-five minutes in every hour the contestants must dance; if they fall, collapse or just stop moving, they will be disqualified. Waiting until the last minute for her no-show partner, Rita is forced to accept Bill's offer to dance (even though he has two left feet). He tells Rita about his daredevil stunts at the Trenton Air Show, where he crashed his plane but bought a winning raffle ticket for a kiss and a dance with "Lindy's Lovebird." He is obviously smitten with her, but Rita is secretly married to Mick, the Master of Ceremonies. Mick's scheme is simple. Rita adds glamor to the marathon, Mick makes sure she wins, they take the prize money and move on to the next town. Mick has promised her that this will be her last marathon, but as he confides in Mr. Walker, his assistant, winning is a powerful thing. The other marathon contestants include Shelby Stevens, a former cook in a lumber camp, and her partner, harmonica virtuoso Luke Adams; struggling young newlyweds from Utah, Precious and Happy McGuire; Olympic wrestler Johnny Adel and his partner, one-time socialite Dora Foster; and vaudeville brother-and-sister team Bette and Buddy Becker. Since Bill isn't up to Rita's level as a dancer, Mick himself shows her off on the dance floor while Bill watches from the sidelines, admiring the woman he loves. Mick gets the band to turn up the musical heat, as the dancers compete for sponsorship.

As time passes, the contestants begin dropping from exhaustion, and Mick tries to liven things up with their speciality acts, starting with Shelby. Another of Mick's schemes is to trump up a romance between Bill and Rita, culminating in a wedding on the dance floor-only pretend, of course-and he insists that Rita tell Bill, in spite of her misgivings. After the 'Two Step', on their hourly fifteen-minute break, Rita finds Bill on the boardwalk, at the tank of the Diving Horse, where he shows off and she dares him to jump in for a swim. But before Rita can tell Bill of Mick's plan, their break is over, in time for Luke Adams' Harmonica Speciality. When Mick brings Rita and Bill up to the mic' to announce their engagement on the nightly radio broadcast, Bill proposes unprompted by either. In celebration, Mick has Rita sing her signature tune as we flashback to her act at the Trenton Air Show where Bill first saw her. The scene shifts back to the Steel Pier where, in order to knock out some of the competition, Mick announces that it's time to run "the Sprints". Rita falls, but Bill somehow manages to stop time and run it back again so she won't be disqualified before his time is up. This time she doesn't fall, as the marathon continues.


As the publicity stunt wedding approaches, Rita is drawn to Bill in ways she can't admit. He even enters her dreams during a fifteen-minute nap, taking her on a celestial aeroplane ride. The young farmer, Happy, has dropped out of the marathon, in hopes that his wife Precious will come home with him to Utah. Precious has other, grander plans for herself, but when Shelby offers to take her place with Happy he gently turns her down. On the phoney wedding night, Mick takes Rita up to the roof to show her the lines of people flocking to buy tickets. Suspecting her growing feelings for Bill, Mick insists she get him to drop out as soon as the wedding's over, and leaves. Rita is consoling herself with her dream that this will be her last marathon when Precious comes looking for Mick, who clearly has taught Precious more about show business than his secret marital status should allow. Rita's world seems to be coming apart.

The circus-like atmosphere of the wedding is heightened by the cellophane costumes the wedding party wears. In exchange for her personal favours, Mick has featured Precious in the ceremony as the personification of Fralinger's Salt Water Taffy. For the titillation of the crowd, Rita and Bill are given their fifteen-minute break in a honeymoon tent on the dance floor, one Rita knows can be ripped away at any moment. When she wishes she and Bill could escape, Bill offers to take her away in his plane, telling her that anything can happen if you believe in your dreams. But Bill's time has run out. As he explains to Rita that his three weeks are up, the tent is ripped away and the hurt and confused Rita runs from the dance floor. Bill watches her go and then leaves. Mick tries to force Rita back onto the floor to finish the marathon with another partner but Rita is determined to go home, to the house that Mick angrily informs her he had to sell long before. As Rita packs to leave, Mick furiously reminds her of everything he has done for her. Grabbing the Air Show raffle ticket Bill had given her out of her hand, he reminds her how her act failed in Trenton after some "hot-dog pilot" got himself killed in a crash. Suddenly everything becomes clear to Rita. For three weeks she has been dancing with a man - falling in love with a man - who was only with her on borrowed time. As she realises what a loveless trap her life with Mick has been, the world around her fades away and Bill appears. Urging her to take a chance on her life, he asks her at last for the dance he won in the raffle. When their tender dance is through, he is swept away by the dancers in white and the world of the marathon returns. Rita is surrounded by the exhausted surviving contestants, but she picks up her suitcase and, with a triumphant sense of hope and determination, she leaves the marathon behind forever.

Musical Numbers:

Overture - Orchestra


  1. Prelude Orchestra with Bill Kelly
  2. Waiting to Ride Rita Racine
  3. Everybody Dance Mick Hamilton, Dance Couples, Mr. Walker, Sonny,Bill Kelly, Rita Racine & Company
  4. Second Chance Bill Kelly with Rita Racine
  5. A Powerful Thing Mick Hamilton & Mr. Walker
  6. Dance With Me/The Last Girl Mick Hamilton, Dance couples /Bill Kelly & Ensemble
  7. The Shag Orchestra
  8. Everybody's Girl Shelby Stevens
  9. Two Step Orchestra
  10. Wet Rita Racine & Bill Kelly
  11. Harmonica Speciality - harmonica solo
  12. Lovebird Rita Racine with Preacher, Sonny, Bill Kelly & Ensemble
  13. The Sprints Mick Hamilton with Mr. Walker, Bill Kelly & Company


  1. Entr'acte Orchestra
  2. Leave the World Behind Bill Kelly, Rita Racine & Ensemble
  3. Somebody Older Shelby Stevens with Happy McGuire
  4. Running in Place Rita Racine
  5. Two Little Words Precious McGuire with Mick Hamilton, Bill Kelly, Rita Racine, Preacher & Company
  6. First You Dream Bill Kelly & Rita Racine
  7. Steel Pier Mick Hamilton, with dance couples
  8. Steel Pier (reprise) Rita Racine, Mick Hamilton & Company
  9. Final Dance Orchestra with Bill Kelly & Rita Racine

Scenes and Settings

Place: Steel Pier, Atlantic City, New Jersey. Time: August, 1933.

Act 1

Scene 1: The Beach/The Boardwalk.
Scene 2: The Steel Pier Ballroom.
Scene 3: Mick Hamilton's Office.
Scene 4: The Rest Stations.
Scene 5: The Steel Pier Ballroom.
Scene 6: Behind the Bandstand.
Scene 7: The Steel Pier Ballroom.
Scene 8: Mick Hamilton's Office.
Scene 9: The Steel Pier Ballroom.
Scene 10: The Diving Horse Tank.
Scene 11: The Steel Pier Ballroom/The Trenton Air Show.

Act 2.

Scene 1: The Rest Stations.
Scene 2: A Corridor near the Dance Floor.
Scene 3: The Steel Pier Ballroom.
Scene 4: Outside the Steel Pier Ballroom.
Scene 5: The Rooftop of the Ballroom.
Scene 6: The Steel Pier Ballroom.
Scene 7: The Women's Rest Station.
Scene 8: 'l'he Steel Pier Ballroom.
Scene 9: The Women's Rest Station/Outside the Steel Pier.


(in order of appearance):

The Flying Dunlaps: Leigh-Anne Wencker, Jack Hayes, JoAnn M. Hunter, Robert Fowler. John Maclnnis.

Steel Pier Marathon Couples:

Couple #39: K. Ziemba, D. McDonald. Couple #32: D. Monk, J.C. Havens. Couple #17: V. Wright, J. Blinn. Couple #4: K. Chenoweth, J. Newman. Couple #26: A. Bevan, T. Warmen. Couple #46: J. M. Hunter, G. Mitchell. Couple #8: D. L. Mauro, A. Blankenbuehler. Couple #50: E. Mills, J. Hayes. Couple #68: L. Weneker, R. Fowler. Couple #71: I. Gilliams, A. Pelty. Couple #51: S. S. Shannon, C. Nicholaw. Couple #54: M. Illes, B. Bradley. Couple #65: R. Curry, J.!Animas. Couple 418: L.. Wencker, J. I layes. Couple #41: I. Gilliams, J. Maclnnis. Couple #11: R. Curry, R. Fowler. Couple #30: E. Mills, A. Pelty. Couple #25: K. Chenoweth, G. Mitchell. Couple #19: M. Illes, C. Nicholaw. Couple #14: L. Wencker, B. Bradley. Couple #40: I. Gilliam, R. Fowler. Couple #55: S. S. Shannon, B. Bradley. Couple #34: R. Curry, J. Hayes. Couple #62: M. Illes, T. Warmen.

Swings: Julio Augustin, Leslie Bell, Angelique llo, Scott Taylor.


Original Broadway Cast Album - RCA Victor 09026-68878-2