The Rodgers and Hart show On Your Toes was the success of the 1936 Broadway season. It made a star of Ray Bolger and put up an initial run of 315 performances. More important, it brought ballet into the American musical. None less than George Balanchine choreographed two sequences, the most famous of which is the finale, "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue."
Here the dance element is a completely integrated part of the narrative. (It has also been produced as a separate dance by Balanchine's New York City Ballet.) The story of On Your Toes concerns backstage life in a ballet company, and the conclusion is a complicated, play-within-a-play, life-imitates-art, tragedy-farce. Ray Bolger's character Junior Dolan was the Hoofer in the ballet, Tamara Geva was the Stripper, and George Church was Big Boss. In the ballet a passionate triangle forms, and ends with the Stripper shot by the jealous Big Boss, who is in turn shot by the Hoofer. Then ostensibly real mobsters enter, threatening Ray Bolger's character Junior Dolan, who dances to make himself a difficult target. Finally the police arrive and nab the would-be killers, and Junior collapses in exhaustion.
The score has a tough, jazzy edge, appropriate to the seedy nightclub milieu, and the insinuating, energetic, and highly kinetic "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" has become a popular orchestral classic.
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.