A CurtainUp London Review
The story may be set in the Great Depression but the same core values of the risks of mounting a new musical would apply today. There are almost 50 dancers and singers whose livelihood depends on the success of entertainment producer Julian Marsh (Tom Lister)'s show within a show, Pretty Lady. For me the great joy of 42nd Street is in the set piece dances. I felt my jaw drop in the opening scene when all took to the stage in a glorious spectacle of 50 people tap dancing at once on the stage at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Bonnie Langford has just joined the cast as Dorothy Brock a seasoned musical singer who is famous for her lack of dancing skills. Oh irony of ironies that Miss Langford who is known for her dance ability (she is also aunt to the the famous musical starring Strallen sisters, Scarlett, Zizi, Summer and Sasi) should be playing Dorothy Brock but therein lies a surprise.
Thirty four years ago I took my small children to Wimbledon to see Bonnie Langford play Cinderella with a miniature coach lit with fairy lights and pulled by two Shetland ponies. My almost four year old daughter memorably said, "It is as if they have stepped out of the screen!" Her theatrical experience up to that point had been puppet shows in the park. A child star, Bonny Langford had played Violet Elizabeth Bott, in the Just William television serial, who famously used to lispingly say "I'll thcream and thcream until I'm thick". So the Dorothy Brock part is Bonnie Langford's coming of age and magnificent she is too!
Besides the whole company in the opening tap dance number, there are other amazing dance pieces. There is the "Shadow Waltz" with shadows made by lamps on wheels and forming a line of dancers in silhouette like one of Lotte Reiniger's cut out shadow films. But the one I liked more than anything else is the Busby Berkeley circle of girls with crimped hair and spangled costumes reflected in the mirror at the back of the stage as they elegantly lie down and form kaleidoscopic moves to the music of "Keep Young and Beautiful". "We're in the Money" sees another spectacular dance number with girls wearing gold and silver and dancing on giant silver dollars.
The Second Act sees Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse) given her chance to star when Dorothy breaks her ankle and has to pull out of the show. Art imitated life when the first actor playing Peggy and her understudy both fell ill and an unknown chorus girl took over the part in London in the 1980s. The unknown chorine was Catherine Zeta Jones. The endurance of these professional dancers is impressive and there isn't a weak performance anywhere.
I loved the design. Besides soft sugar almond colours for the tap dancers there are glittering, gold and silver outfits. The backdrops are often simple but I appreciated the neon lights displaying the shows on Broadway in 1933. Put your shades on for the sparkling finale as the cast decend the steps in a dazzling exit.
It may be set in another era but 42nd Street has a sincerity which is about the sacrifices that people in show business make and the dedication they display. The resulting show is as fine as I would hope to see in a lifetime.
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Music and lyrics: Harry Warren and Al Dubin
Director and co-author: Mark Bramble
Co-author: Michael Stewart
Original Director and Choreographer: Gower Champion
Starring: Bonnie Langford Tom Lister, Clare Halse, Ashley Day, Jasna Ivir, Christopher Howell, Matthew Goodgame, Graeme Henderson, Bruce Montague, Mark McKerracher, Emma Caffrey, Clare Rickard, Ella Martine, Paul Knight.
With: Hannah Amin, Lucy Andic, Thomas Audibert, George Beet, Philip Bertioli, Sarah Bispham, Pamela Blair, Josephine Camble, Abi Carruthers, Danielle Cato, Freddie Clements, Gabrielle Cocca, Joel Cooper, Matt Cox, Adam Denman, Lisa Dent, Natasha Ferguson, Madeleine Francis, Maria Garrett, Luke George, Ryan Gover, Maddie Harper, Rebecca Herszenhorn, Bethany Huckle, Emma Johnson, Sarah Kacey, Jasmine Kerr, Annie Kitchen, Jenny Legg, James-Royden Lyley, Martin McCarthy, Hannah-Faith Marram, Steph Parry, Tom Partridge, Billie-Kay, Lucy Renouf, Katy Riches, Zoe Rogers, Christina Shand, Jessica Stent, Zac Watts, Liam Wrate
Choreographer: Randy Skinner
Set Designer: Douglas W Schmidt
Costume Designer: Roger Kirk
Orchestrations: Philip J Lang
Lighting Designer Peter Mumford
Sound Designer: Gareth Owen
Musical Supervisor: Todd Ellison
Music Director: Jae Alexander
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes
Box Office: 020 7087 7760
Booking to 5th January 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 25th September 2018 Gala performance at at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JF (Tube: Covent Garden)
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