I have sometimes pondered on the usefulness on reviving rarely performed theatrical works – surely there are sound reasons why certain some plays and musicals have stood the test of time. On the other hand, there were questions from some quarters about whether now really was the right time to launch a revival of 42nd Street in the West End, so relatively soon after a production at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2011 (which transferred to Leicester Curve Theatre in the same year) and a different UK tour production in 2012. The original 1984 London production, at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, ran for over four years. This revival is being held in the same theatre, and with the same director, Mark Bramble, who is also one of the show’s librettists.
The show comes across as a production that really does need a huge cast to make it work properly. With some shows, less is more. Not here; the more, the merrier. I counted 55 cast members on the show’s website, and the programme lists 19 members of the orchestra, the latter led by an enthusiastic Jae Alexander. Add to that the dressers, sound and lighting engineers, stage managers and assistants. When Julian Marsh (Tom Lister) talks about the livelihoods of a hundred people being dependent on the show being a success, there’s more than a scintilla of life imitating art.
42nd Street is as perfect an example of demonstrating the usefulness of the understudy as there could be. It’s a show about a show, and when Dorothy Brock (Sheena Easton) is indisposed, Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse) steps in after some persuasion, which comes in the form of one of the more famous musical numbers in 42nd Street, ‘Lullaby of Broadway’. Plot-wise, regular theatregoers don’t learn anything new, but it’s a good introduction to the theatrical world, following rookie Sawyer on her journey to stardom. The plot is not without holes, as Sawyer talks about a lack of confidence, despite having already demonstrated several times in the course of the narrative that she is a well-drilled and capable dancer. Although director Marsh may well be better termed Julian Harsh in the way in which he speaks to her (mind you, this was Broadway in 1933), in the end, I could only agree with him: she was only being asked to do what she has proved she can do already.
Elsewhere, Brock’s dressing room has a door, and it works, as Marsh and others (separately) open it, though nobody knocks before entering, presumably to maintain the show’s relentless pace rather than as a deliberate discourtesy. Either way, why, then, do still other characters enter and exit the dressing room from the sides? But this reviewer doth protest too much. The choreography (Randy Skinner) is spectacular from the start, and continues to impress, each ensemble number bigger and better than the one before. By the time the show reaches the post-curtain call encore, the extravaganza set before the audience has the precision of the Trooping the Colour parade and the boundless enthusiasm of a company palpably enjoying themselves on stage. A fellow audience member told me afterwards he felt it was exhausting to watch. For my part, I was energised and exhilarated rather than fatigued.
It’s unlikely to win over anyone who wouldn’t normally enjoy a musical theatre production. As Marsh himself puts it, “Musical comedy – the two most glorious words in the English language!” But for those who like a classic, feel-good musical that will have them leaving the theatre with a smile on their faces and humming memorable tunes, a trip down to 42nd Street is worth every penny.
Wow. Just wow. This delightful and vibrant production is musical theatre heaven. I want to see it again.
Review by Chris Omaweng
42nd STREET is the song and dance, American dream fable of Broadway. Young Peggy Sawyer is fresh off the bus from small-town America and just another face in the chorus line on Broadway’s newest show. But when the leading lady gets injured, Peggy might just have the shot at stardom she’s always dreamed of…
Broadway’s Biggest Show featuring the iconic songs 42nd Street, We’re In The Money, Lullaby of Broadway, Shuffle Off To Buffalo, Dames, I Only Have Eyes For You. 42nd STREET arrives on the West End’s biggest stage, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Spring 2017.
Grammy Award winner Sheena Easton joins an all singing, high-kicking cast as Dorothy Brock with Tom Lister as Julian Marsh and Clare Halse as Peggy Sawyer.
Mark Bramble, co-author of the book for the original Broadway and West End productions of 42nd STREET and director of the 2001 Tony Award® winning revival of 42nd STREET, returns to direct the new West End production.
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JF