| By Sandra Howell
I am still humming, singing and grinning after watching an epic performance of 42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. This brilliant show brightens up these cold and dark days- and I'm not just talking about the January weather. And that's another impact-it has made me attempt to write smart wisecracks, which sadly do not reflect the clever and witty one-liners in 42nd Street's script and lyrics.
42nd Street was probably the first ever feel good musical. It debuted as a Hollywood musical movie in 1933 and proved to be a popular antidote to the grinding unemployment, poverty and homelessness of masses of people during the Great Depression. So it has plenty of upbeat songs and spectacular dance numbers with a heavy emphasis on tap. The cast of extraordinary tap dancers/singers/actors are the gold Olympic athletes of tap dancing; using intricate steps and endless amounts of energy they display amazing stamina, skill and flair to present so many joyous 'song and dance' routines. What I also enjoy about 42nd Street is that the casts' singing and acting are just as fabulous as their dancing.
Like variety or Vaudeville shows from the 1930s, this is a fully rounded, proper musical which gives us everything: impeccably timed comedy, verbal and slapstick, wonderful songs, acting and superb dance routines. Some of my favourites include Dylan Mason as Billy Lawlor "he's a tenor but he's got base ideas." He is a fantastic tap dancer as well as having strong and clean vocals. Jasna Ivir is a streetwise Maggie Jones with a belting voice. Her rendition of "Go Into Your Dance" is lovely and the whole tap dance routine, complete with pirouettes and leaps by the waiters, Peggy Sawyer and other characters is excellent, with many laugh out loud moments. CJ Johnson is great as the high maintenance Dorothy Brock with a perfectly powerful voice, who displays Brock's vulnerability so well. Johnson's "I Only Have Eyes For You" is gorgeous. It is wonderful how the routine transitions from Brock's solo, to an ensemble song and dance routine. Clare Halse is tremendously versatile in the role of Peggy Sawyer. She has excellent comedic timing. She has a beautiful voice, is a great actor and her tap dancing skills are stunning. If I had to pick one of my favourite numbers led by Halse it would be "With Plenty of Money And You." It has another of Peggy's solo tap routines, including complicated steps, millions of perfectly placed tap pirouettes covering the stage, all matched by the superb male dance troupe. I have to mention the "42nd Street" song and dance routine led by Halse, wow! It is packed with high kicks, lyrical dance, Lindy Hop moves and call and response tap dancing between Peggy and Billy. Peggy’s dancing is at first syncopated, it becomes sultry and then jazzy broadening out to the ensemble. This is mixed with Billy’s marvellous hoofing and vocals. All the dancers are strong and sharp with clean lines. Comedy is well represented in 42nd Street including in "Shuffle Off To Buffalo" which is filled with sharp one-liners and in the slapstick of "The Shadow Waltz."
The slickly changing set is sensational and clever. I love the use of a large mirror, accurately angled to show the audience an aerial view of the women's synchronised dancing on a rotating floor. The mirror allows you to see all the shapes and patterns they make. This is a clever way of recreating the dance routines of the Busby Berkeley movies (including those from the 42nd Street film) and the Ziegfeld Follies shows. Where did that brightly lit staircase magically appear from during the “42nd Street” number, which the cast tapped down in perfect formation and rhythm?
The multi-talented cast is a vital, world-class ingredient for this wholesome musical. They give us the greatest hits of the era in awesome song and dance routines. And congratulations to the costume designers for the luscious ball gowns, dresses and costumes, essential for depicting shows from the era.
42nd Street should be on prescription as a natural remedy to increase your serotonin levels. Side effects include uncontrollable laughter, humming, singing and foot tapping.