★★★★★ | 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London
It’s got Razzle. It’s got dazzle. It’s the tapiest and most glittering show in town. It’s 42nd Street!
42nd Street is back in London and it played to a star-studded crowd on opening night (even the Duchess of Cambridge was there!). There were more stars in the room than in the skies, and there were more sparkles on stage than on Guy Fawkes night! 42nd Street is one of the most well-known and loved musicals of all time. Originally a 1933 film and based on a novel by Bradford Ropes, 42nd Street made it to broadway as a musical 47 years later (what took it so long?). It found it’s way to our shores in 1984, playing at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (where it’s playing now!) and launched the career of Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was a chorus member fortunate enough to be bounced to the lead role one night when the main star and the understudy were both sick. The lead role, of wanna be musical star Peggy Sawyer, will definitely make Clare Halse, who is in this new production, a star.
Mark Bramble, who originally wrote the book (along with Michael Stewart) directs this new production, and it’s a non-stop bacchanalia of fun! And with an amazing and flawless cast of over 50, 42nd Street has gotten better with time, even though it tells the same old time-trodden story of a young girl from a small town – Peggy Sawyer – who goes to the big city and dreams of making it big. She gets a job as a backup dancer in a new show called Pretty Lady, and the Pretty Lady in the title is Dorothy Brock (fabulously played by singer Sheena Easton). Brock is in love with Pat (Norman Bowman), who disappears off to Philadelphia. So Brock wants to follow him there, forcing the show to move to there. But Brock breaks her ankle, so after getting fired for causing Brock to break her leg, Sawyer is roped back into the show, this time as it’s lead, and she’s only got 48 hours to learn the part, to learn the dance moves, and is wooed and coddled by director Julian Marsh (Tom Lister). But it’s Billy (Stuart Neal) who really takes a liking to her. Will she be ready and rehearsed in time to open the show? Will the nerves get the best of her? I’m sure we can all figure out how it plays out – and plays out it does, much to our delight!
But the story line pretty much takes a back seat to the musical numbers. Songs such as ‘I Only Have Eyes for you’ – beautifully sung by Easton, and ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ and ‘We’re in the Money – sung by the entire cast, are just as memorable now as when they were originally written. Act 1 moves us from the stage of the 42nd Street theatre to The Gypsy Tea Kettle Restaurant and then on to Philadelphia, while Act 2 takes us from the dressing rooms to Philadelphia train station – all realistically cleverly designed. And those dance numbers – wow! There is one amazing scene where a dozen or so female dancers are on the floor while a mirror hovers above them for the audience to see – it’s breathtaking! This cast is definitely the hardest working cast in town – from the opening number where they tap themselves to death to the finale where they all come down the amazing light-up stairs – it’s one singing sensation after another. Halse is superb (with an excellent voice) as the lead, Easton is delicious as Brock – who would’ve guessed Easton had so much acting talent, and it’s her acting stage debut! And Maggie Jones and Christopher Howell excel in their supporting roles. With excellent choreography by Randy Skinner, 42nd Street is simply a must show to see.
42nd Street is playing at DTheatre Royal Drury Lane, London until October 14, 2017.
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.