Our show opens in 1923, when Trudy Harper, a cub reporter for the New York World Telegram reminisces about the time she was invited by Ziegfeld to an interview (which he’d forgotten all about). It’s the day before his newest extravaganza’s opening night.
The back stage anxiety is at an all-time high because of Ziegfeld’s flamboyant directives which he insists will improve the show. This is most personified by the loyal and long-suffering stage manager, Milton. Just as they are about to start a run-through of the show, word comes that Harold Suave, heart throb and leading man and his glamorous dance partner were hospitalized after injuring themselves in an erotic accident.
This incident necessitates Ziegfeld bringing in a complete unknown, creating the illusion that he is a European star, sending out an outlandish press release to that effect, and by an amazing quirk of fate, inserting Trudy into the show. Adding to the strain, the financial backers are unhappy with Ziegfeld’s shameless disinterest in the show’s exploding budget.
Moreover, Ziegfeld’s wife, Billie Burke, has discovered a nude statue of Ziegfeld’s former lover in his nightstand. True to form, Miss Burke bursts into the theater seeking an explanation. This is not his first transgression, but Billie has reason to reconsider the honesty of his love and the future of their marriage. She is consoled by her friend Fannie Brice who was betrayed by the man in her life, and who reassures Billie about Ziegfeld’s love for her. Meanwhile, Ziegfeld reflects that this time he may have gone too far.
In the middle of things, the attorney for the backers threatens to shut down the show, but this threat is alleviated when his comedic rendition of a two step catches Ziegfeld’s eye. With masterful flattery and an offer to be in the show, the attorney is placated.
Despite all of these catastrophes, after a boffo rehearsal of skits and songs, the show is obviously going to be a hit. Trudy dances and sings her heart out and has the time of her life. Ziegfeld realizes that he’s hurt Billie, and because he truly loves her, he starts to pick up the pieces.