By Tim Ryan
When Wanda Richert walks on stage tonight in Diamond Head Theatre's "42nd Street," you'll see a performer who's doing more than just playing a role.
Not only did Richert originate the part of Peggy Sawyer when "42nd Street" debuted on Broadway in 1980, but the then 22-year-old singer-dancer was in the middle of an intimate relationship with Gower Champion, the show's director-choreographer, who still inspires her.
"Gower and I were very close; we had a special relationship," Richert said. "We were very much in love. And this show is our life, it's about our relationship; it's a mirror image of what we were experiencing off stage."
Richert was 22; Champion 57. "42nd Street" was "our baby," Richert said. The show won a Tony for Best Musical in 1981 and Champion, who died the day the musical opened on Broadway, got the Tony for his ingenious choreography.
"He was ill during the whole process of creating the show," Richert said. "They didn't tell me he had died until after the performance opening night. His timing to go was perfect."
So "42nd Street," a sassy stage remake of the classic 1933 movie, is much more than another show for Richert, who returns to the stage after a four-year absence while raising her son; she also has a daughter, 12.
Richert has performed in numerous shows, including "Nine," "Chorus Line" and "Sugar Babies." "I have been blessed, working with the best, like Gower and Michael Bennett," she said.
Hawaii gets Richert's talents because of her lifelong friendship with Diamond Head Theatre's musical director, John Rampage -- her first dance partner.
"'42nd Street' is a family musical like we used to watch on television," Richert said. "I promise you'll walk out of the theater singing a song."
One of Broadway's mega hits, "42nd Street" celebrates the stuff that dreams are made of. It contains show-stopping musical numbers like "We're in the Money," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "Lullaby of Broadway" and the title tune.
Originally produced on Broadway by David Merrick, "42nd Street" has been described as the definitive backstage musical: a show about a show.
Richert's favorite moment is the scene called "Speck of Dust," in which a young, aspiring actress has a dialogue with a more experienced director.
"He says to her, 'Look at you! Dreaming of parties, opening nights. You're just a speck of dust on this stage, indistinguishable from the 40 others that I put up there. Broadway dreams, we've all had them.'"
"I know that," the actress says. "But I need to hold to mine."
Richert says the theater is like a church to her.
"Between shows on Broadway I would just sit in the house and watch that one ghost light on the stage. I knew there was magic there then, and it's there now."
On stage: 8 p.m. tomorrow through May 30
Venue: Diamond Head Theatre
Benefit gala: 6 p.m. tonight; tickets $50-$100
Four Broadway-style musicals, the Hawaii premiere of a new comedy and the encore performance of Lisa Matsumoto's "The Princess and the Iso Peanut" highlight Diamond Head Theatre's just-announced 1999-2000 season.
Diamond Head Theatre
announces new season
The shows include:
"Cinderella": Sept. 17-Oct. 3Unless otherwise noted, all performances will run 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, with 4 p.m. Sunday matinees.
"The Miracle on 34th Street Musical: Here's Love": Dec. 3-19
"How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying": Feb. 18-March 5, 2000
"Jackie: An American Life": March 31-April 16, 2000
"Phantom": May 19-June 4, 2000
Lisa Matsumoto's "The Prince and the Iso Peanut": July 7-23, 2000
DHT will continue its program of post-show artistic discussions, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process. Post-show discussions are on the second Sunday of each performance run.
Season ticket prices for the six-show season per person are $45, $90, $135 and $180.
Subscribers receive a 25-percent savings off the single-ticket price, exclusive exchange privileges, and discounts on additional ticket purchases. Alternative subscription packages are also available.
Season ticket orders may be placed at the box office, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays
For information, call the DHT box office at 734-0274, or visit the theater's Web site at www.starrtech.com/diamondhead.
Click for online
calendars and events.