Book: Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
Music: Harry Warren
Lyrics: Al Dubin
Director: Paul Kerryson
Choreographer: Andrew Wright
Reviewer: Carol Evans
The Public Reviews Rating:
For sheer escapism and its overriding message that anything’s possible, it’s little wonder that 42nd Street boosted flagging optimism in Depression-hit America when it first hit that nation’s screens in the 1930s. We could do with such a tonic here in what is rapidly becoming Austerity Britain.
Thank goodness then, for Chichester, whose spectacular stage version of this classic musical is guaranteed to keep spirits high in our own straitened times. With a terrific score, all those tap, tap, tapping feet in high-octane dance numbers, director Paul Kerryson has come up with a sure-fire winner for the Chichester summer season.
Set in 1933, it tells how little Peggy Sawyer is brought out of the chorus line to take the lead and save the day when ageing star and arch-bitch Dorothy Brock breaks her ankle hours before the show Pretty Lady opens. Her director’s exhortation, “You’re going out there a youngster but you gotta come back a star,” speaks as much about the American Dream as saving the livelihoods of his cast and crew as well as Peggy’s own personal glory.
The show is slick, polished and exuberant with clever use of trapdoors to transport props to the almost bare stage and projections on the back wall to denote scenes,.
The ensemble singing is excellent. The dancers are superb, the tap, tap tapping mesmeric from when we first hear it as 16 hoofers rise in a close-knit batch from the bowels of the stage right through to the last, fairly raunchy, setting of 42nd Street itself.
In between, we are treated to more showstopping numbers: the glitzy and glamorous Dames and extravagant We’re in the Money to the atmospherically beautiful Lullaby of Broadway to the cheerfully comic Shuffle Off to Buffalo. Plus loads more.
Andrew Wright’s choreography is energetic and exciting with just the occasional nod towards Busby Berkeley’s legendary formation set pieces. The costumes are pretty fabulous too, sparkly and bright in the big production pieces and elegant and stylish in the rest. I did wonder, however, in the finale whether sailors in their all-white ratings’ outfits and a female in army uniform were more Forties than Thirties. I’m no expert and this is just being picky in an otherwise excellent show.
Lauren Hall was sparky as Peggy Sawyer, the fresh-faced Pennsylvanian wannabe looking for her first dancing job in New York. Given that she was about to be superseded by a younger model, Kathryn Evans’s Dorothy Brock could probably have been bitchier, but was otherwise good with a lovely sensuous singing voice. Louise Plowright gave a gutsy performance as wise-cracking producer/writer Maggie Jones. I felt that, initially at least, Tim Flavin could have beefed up his portrayal of director Julian Marsh, although he did come into his own in the final stages.
But the success of 42nd Street doesn’t so much depend on individuals as it does on its ensemble cast. They have to be team players and the Chichester team were very much just that. How many people on the press night saw a dancer’s hairpiece fall off, only to be collected by a somersaulting colleague? Brilliant quick-thinking there!
Chichester Festival Theatre has once again excelled in its choice of summer musical. So there’s only one thing to say, “Come and meet those dancing feet…..” Go see!!
Runs until 28th August42nd Street - Chichester Festival Theatre,
Tags: 42nd Street, Al Dubin, American Dream, Andrew Wright, Busby Berkeley, Depression, Franklin D Roosevelts’ New Deal, Harry Warren, Kathryn Evans, Lauren Hall, Louise Plowright, Mark Bramble, Michael Stewart, Musical, Paul Kerryson, Tim Flavin