42nd Street "Immaculately danced and masterfully executed"

Posted on 6 March 2018

42nd Street is everything it promises to be; jaw-dropping, relentless routines, a 43 strong cast tapping immaculate Broadway beats down an illuminated staircase, and a bedazzled audience staring up, open-mouthed below.  American Glamour has arrived at Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

The show follows the story of Peggy Sawyer (played by a breath-taking Clare Halse), a chorus line showgirl looking for her big break, which she finds in the fictional Broadway show  Pretty Lady.  She arrives a naïve young actress, caught in the spotlight of fiery director Julian Marsh (Tom Lister) and diva star of the show Dorothy Brock (Sheena Easton). In a twist of fate, and Dorothy’s ankle, Peggy finds herself propelled into whirlwind rehearsals and onto centre stage.  Cue laughs, tears, and high-speed tapping.

The entire cast work together with such seamlessness that all performances work in harmony, with strong leads, hilarious cameos and marvellous support from the chorus line (who in many ways are in fact the lead of the show).  A word also for the brilliance of understudies and swings; they are the lifeblood of a musical and kept the production pumping seamlessly for this performance. CJ Johnson gave a gorgeous performance as Dorothy Brock, her song I Only Have Eyes For You, giving us a much needed emotional connection.

The book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble (Bramble also directs this production) reworks the classic 1933 Warner Brothers movie and originating novel by Bradford Ropes, and injects glitz and glamour into the heart of the show.  Where there were only four songs in the movie, the show dove into the back catalogue of Harry Warren’s music and Al Dubin’s lyrics that were written for other films at the time, to give us the delights of Go Into Your Dance and Lullaby of Broadway, and in this way, 42nd Street is a sister to the jukebox musicals that are becoming ever popular in the West End.

Whilst the performance was a wonder of showbiz and a theatrical extravaganza that will be loved by the whole family, the underlying story and theme of the play feels disjointed with today’s wider social discourse.  There is a problem with the achingly sexist lyrics and plotline that pretends to centre around the one-in-a-million talents of Peggy Sawyer, but instead praises her tyrannical director, Julian Marsh for being the true artist “pulling the strings”.  One wonders if, in the way the original book was manipulated to satisfy a post-war era, a modern revival could rework the piece for today’s audience, to provide deeper sentiment and poignancy, as we’ve seen in recent revivals such as An American in Paris.

Immaculately danced and masterfully executed, 42nd Street is a West End delight that displays the magnificent power of a stage full of a glorious chorus giving it their all. With the new cast line up announced, you can catch Lulu in the role of Dorothy Brock and Ashley Day taking over the role of Billy Lawlor, whilst Tom Lister and Clare Halse remain in the roles of Julian March and Peggy Sawyer respectively, from 19th March for 16 weeks.

Try to catch Sheena Easton before she leaves the stage, or catch Lulu as she joins the 42nd Street cast, book your tickets here!

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Laura Franek

By Laura Franek

Laura is an actor and writer based in South London