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'42nd Street' mints a coin for the realm of dancers

July 27, 2003|Victoria Looseleaf

Calling all coin collectors: If you're looking for a 1933 Mercury-head dime, be advised you won't find one in a numismatic shop, but you can see one on stage at the Ahmanson Theatre, where the feel-good musical "42nd Street" is playing.

In fact, in the glittery production number "We're in the Money," you'll find a bevy of chorines dancing atop 22 small wooden dimes. Then, the mother of all 1933 coins is rolled out by two guys for hoofer Robert Spring to strut his stuff atop it.

"During 1933, in the Depression," explains 23-year old Spring, who plays Billy Lawlor, "the Mint didn't make dimes that year, or any other coins, for that matter."

So set designer Douglas Schmidt fudged a bit. According to stage manager Renee Rimland, Schmidt downloaded a picture from the Internet. "It's a high-resolution piece of art that looks like the head of a coin. It reads 'In God We Trust' and features the 1933 date." The photo was digitally reproduced to create a graphic that was then affixed to the wooden cylinder painted silver.

The prop went through a number of prototypes, Schmidt says, and was based on the wing of an airplane, with each dime having struts, or wooden supports, inside.

"If you were to pull off the top," Rimland says, "it would look pie-shaped. There are holes to maximize sound and minimize weight by cutting out excess wood."

With a diameter of roughly 7 feet, and a width of nearly 2 feet, when standing on its side this dime is taller than Spring. There are also 23 tiny rubber grips on the dime that hug the floor to prevent dancers from slipping. This dime can easily support the weight of a small elephant -- or at least Spring and the two dancers who high-kick at the number's close.

As for the "baby" dimes, they're 25 inches in diameter and sport 7-inch widths.

It's unlikely that when Ruth Etting recorded "Ten Cents a Dance" in 1930, or two years later, when Bing Crosby crooned, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?," that either could have imagined these dancer-friendly coins.

-- Victoria Looseleaf

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