The hit musical 42nd Street is back in town returning to the West End’s biggest stage – the Theatre Royal Drury Lane where the original West End production opened on August 8, 1984 and incidentally launched the career of Catherine Zeta-Jones. A chorus girl when the show opened, Zeta-Jones took over the role of Peggy Sawyer when both the actor portraying the lead and her understudy became ill during the run – there is life imitating a Broadway show.
Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes, the 1933 Warner Brothers film adaptation 42nd Street started the golden days of film musicals featuring Busby Berkeley’s impressive choreography and songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. David Merrick took a huge risk when he decided to bring 42nd Street to the stage in 1980 because Gigi, the only other film musical that had been transferred to the stage at that time, had flopped. But Merrick’s gamble paid off and his production became one of the longest running shows in Broadway history.
When 42nd Street opened on Broadway in August 1980, it played for 3,486 performances, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical. The London production in 1984 won the Olivier Award for Best Musical and the 2001 Broadway revival, directed by Mark Bramble, took home another Tony and the Drama Desk Award. Mark Bramble, co-author of the book for the original Broadway and West End productions of 42nd Street also directs the new West End production.
Set in April 1933, 42nd Street tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a young performer who arrives in New York City, fresh from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to try her luck on Broadway. Great White Way director Julian Marsh is holding auditions for his new show Pretty Lady and happens to be one dancer short. Peggy’s obvious talent does not remain unnoticed and the starry-eyed girl finds herself in the chorus of a Broadway show with Dorothy Brock in the lead although the diva’s best days are already behind her. Dorothy takes an instant dislike to the new girl. When the star is injured during the previews, it looks like the show will have to close, unless someone talented enough is found to replace her. Could this someone be Peggy Sawyer?
Sheena Easton has taken over the role of Dorothy Brock, the seasoned Broadway star who is past her prime and cannot dance but gets the lead because her elderly admirer Abner Dillon, Bruce Montague as a good-natured Okie complete with western outfit, heavily invests in the show. Still feeling drawn to her old flame Pat Denning (Norman Bowman), Dorothy endangers the future of the production by meeting Pat behind Abner’s back. Julian Marsh, an impressive performance by Tom Lister, puts an end to Dorothy’s romantic fantasies. The notorious director is a man possessed as long as he is working on a show. He makes his dancers work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week to reach perfection – for the chorus this job means another escape from destitution at the height of the Depression. Peggy Sawyer, a fine performance by Clare Halse, feels that Broadway is her calling. Her idealism and enthusiasm helps her overcome her nervousness to seize her opportunity. Stuart Neal is very good as the charming young lead Billy Lawlor who offers to help Peggy for rather selfish reasons.
Before the performance has even begun, the audience is cheering and applauding. Expectations are high because 42nd Street is a classic musical with high production standards, featuring a cast of fifty. Randy Skinner‘s choreography is strongly influenced by Busby Berkeley and the ensemble production numbers probably surpass anything that was presented on Broadway or on the big screen in the 1930s. Iconic songs like “We’re in the Money“, Shuffle Off to Buffalo“, “Dames“, and most of all “Lullaby of Broadway” and “42nd Street” along with stunning tap-dance numbers, glamorous costumes by Roger Kirk and Douglas W. Schmidt‘s luxurious stage design make this show a feast for the eyes and ears. 4/5
Review written by Carolin Kopplin
42nd Street is currently showing at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane until 6th September 2017. For more information on the production, visit here…