Review – 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Thursday 13 April 2017

Some believe that size isn’t everything. Clearly not the producers of this revival of 42nd Street. They measure in feet rather than inches.

It arrives with a cast of 55 for goodness sake. 42 of them tapping at once. That’s 84 feet (should your maths not be up to it). When did you last, or ever, see that? They are spoiling us for other shows. It might be time to invest in a Covent Garden cobblers.

Can you imagine what life is like backstage? Frenzied costume changes and locating the correct pair of tap shoes in areas as crowded as a Southern Rail train. Are they hot-desking the dressing rooms or sub-dividing them? Is Sheena Easton‘s partitioned off with a makeshift sugar wall?

Julian Marsh (Tom Lister from Emmerdale apparently) is putting on a new Broadway show, Pretty Lady. He’s been saddled with a leading lady, the deliciously difficult diva Dorothy Brock (Easton) who is slightly past her sell-by date and because she’s hardly a modern girl, struts around with her rich elderly beau, who is also the show’s backer, Abner Dillon (Bruce Montague, Wendy Craig’s love interest in Butterflies) in tow. Brock breaks her ankle just before the opening. Step in chorine Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse). But can she learn the part with not much more than a morning’s training, save the show and make the Big Time?

It’s knowingly daft and dated. The plot’s as thin as one of many diaphanous chorus girls’ costumes and as corny as a chiropodist’s waste bin. Though this matters not a jot. We were dazzled, and then some. Designers Douglas W Schmidt (sets) and Roger Kirk (costumes) have taken the “gaudy” lyric from the title song literally and cranked up the dial to “over-the-top”. Don’t come expecting subtlety. But do expect a revolve which spends most of the night with its feet up. How extravagant is that?

The music and lyrics  by Harry Warren and Al Dubin respectively, are raided from their back catalogue and the original 1933 film, which surprisingly only has about 5 numbers to lend out. Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble co-wrote the book. The later directs this version with Randy Skinner choreographing the hoardes with military precision. He must be an even bigger slave driver than Julian Marsh is purported to be. The tap dancing is on a scale Phil had never seen before. If you like tap, you’ll love this, if you don’t like tap then never darken our doors again.

From the terrific tappy terpsichorean treat of the opening number the bar is set somewhat high, and apart from Brock’s unlucky break, rarely puts a foot wrong. Halse is a delightful Peggy; Phil’s eyes only saw a young Debbie Reynolds, funny, charming and a stonking hoofer. Stuart Neal as Billy Lawlor taps as though his life depends on it, Lister’s Marsh comes with a strong singing voice and there’s a good supporting cast, especially Christopher Howell, Emma Caffrey and the wonderful Jasna Ivir as warm-hearted wise-cracker Maggie.

Musical Director Jae Alexander deserves special mention for leading his big brassy orchestra (very good sound) and beaming at the audience as if he was having as much fun as we are. Easton’s voice is surprisingly rich and handles comedy grumpiness well enough, though Phil couldn’t help imagining someone like Megan Mullally in the role. And if Easton all but disappears for most of Act 2  – she works till 5 past 9 (approx) – you don’t really notice as the chorus, despite being light on their feet, take over the heavy lifting.

Phil saw the original Broadway and West End versions (the latter at Drury Lane too) and a very underwhelming touring version a few years back. This one was (42nd) streets ahead. The finale slaps you around the chops with so much dazzlement it is impossible to resist.

And top marks for an announcement about switching off phones and seeing an usher enforcing it. The ushers were hushing.

It’s not often we exchange enthusiasm with random audience members upon leaving the theatre but we did. If the producers can make this work economically, and we assume sums have been done, they should be humming “We’re in the Money” for a long time to come.



5 Responses to “Review – 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

  1. surreymusic Says:

    Great review and I totally agree with your verdict. A taptastic show – I can’t think of an evening at the theatre that has given me such pleasure in years.

  2. Billy Says:

    What a lovely review. As in 1932, London and the world must be ready to forget a world of Fascist kleptocrat rulers with an evening of tap. BBC-TV dance excerpts as broadcast showed the valiant girl chorus dancers in fighting form, although curiously, several male chorus tappers seemed to have giant posteriors. Wonder if these elephantine bottoms were a mere camera trick, or whether the boy dancerd were wearing adult diapers for their TV debuts, since discarded? The only imperfection in this charming review is that the link to the Wikipedia bio of Ms. Sheena Easton – the always praiseworthy Phil must be a founding stockholder in Wikipedia – is broken.

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      Duly corrected Billy. Sadly no shares in Wiki, so instead I have inserted a link to Ms Easton’s Official Website. Where you can see, amongst other things, a video of the glittering opening night.

      • Billy Says:

        Even better! Splendid – may we presume that Andrew was absent on this auspicious occasion either because he is one of the tap loathers mentioned in the review, or he is allergic to chorus boys with giant bums, or he was leading an Easter Service at Hove?

  3. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    He is a big fan of tap. You’d have to ask him about other aversions. I believe he will be making his way to the Lane tonight and tapping all the way home afterwards.

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