'Stage Door Charley'

King of the Buskers, Graces Macauley Theatre

By Ninette Shorter

Just in case you're wondering what a busker might be, think of the last time you saw someone entertaining in the street for money. You might see this scene in miniature in Louisville here and there, particularly round about the Highlands, but visit a city that's more deeply tapped into the cross-cultural jugular vein, say, New Orleans, and you'll find multiple small troupes of musicians, jugglers, you name it, drawing stares, tourists' snapshots, and coin. Buskers.

The busking to be found in London has evolved into an art form. Hang out around the square called Covent Garden, or others like it, and you're soon part of a centuries-old social ritual as you watch "professional" buskers performing their theatric wares.

From this tradition sprang the story of Charley Baxter, busker extraordinaire, who quite purposefully lingers with his street troupe around the door of the Garrick Theatre in pre-WWII London, hoping day after day for a chance to make it big. This is the setting for "Stage Door Charley," a charming musical which made its pre-Broadway world premiere right here in Louisville, Kentucky, April 7-15 at the Macauley.

"Stage Door Charley" is directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, who received a 1994 Tony for his direction and choreography for the Broadway production of "Grease!" The new musical is a light-hearted and romanticized look at the man-finds-himself-by-looking-elsewhere theme. Neither the ephemeral affections of Darcie Roberts' animated Libby, with whom Charley falls in love before she rises to shortlived stardom, nor the long dreamed about shot at the big time, arranged by starlet Darcie, are sufficient to tear Charley away from his realization that he is, after all, "Charley the Busker. You can't be someone you're not."

Singing one lilting melody after another by the Sherman Brothers, who wrote "It's a Small World (After All)" thirty years ago and penned the tunes in the Disney classic "Mary Poppins," Tommy Tune delighted the audience as Stage Door Charley. A 6'6" Texan tap dancing with graceful power may be difficult to envision, but this is precisely the manner in which Tune portrayed the busking life. His performance clearly demonstrated the talent with which he's broken every Broadway record and won nine Tony Awards in the process for his singing, dancing, choreography and directing.

Tune's engaging portrayal of Charley nicely illustrated the busker's motto-in-song, "If you blow a kiss when someone's blue, happy things begin happening to you."

Tune and the rest of the show's cast, along with the crew and producers, paid handsome tribute to both the Louisville arts community and the Macauley Theatre by donating 100 percent of the revenue from the first night's show, a special $1,000-per-seat gala, to the Macauley for its renovation fundraising campaign.