Music and Lyrics: Harry Warren and Al Dubin
Book: Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
Director: Mark Bramble
Reviewer: Lucy Thackray
The Public Reviews Rating:
42nd Street is one of those Broadway classics that everyone feels they know, despite perhaps not having seen it many times, much like Guys and Dolls or Anything Goes. This version of the tour is heavily based on Mark Bramble’s Broadway revival, and toured in 2007, also featuring Dave Willetts as Julian Marsh and Jessica Punch as Peggy Sawyer. For such an established show you expect a certain amount of slickness, and slickness is what we largely got, if not pure passion or spontaneity.
The fluffy plot (clichéd Broadway show goes out of town to try out and picks up eager chorus girl Peggy Sawyer, who then has to replace fading star Dorothy Brock on opening night) is delivered with humour and energy by the cast. A dazzling line of pretty and perky chorus girls tap through their troubles – although they fail to really move as one during the big numbers, always one pointed toe out of place or arm raised a split-second late – while caricaturish writers Maggie and Bert (Carol Ball and Graham Hoadly) keep things moving along. Special mention must go to the male ensemble who had my friend giggling with their enthusiasm and pizzazz – “they’re SO Broadway!” – and to Rebecca Marks as savvy chorus girl Anytime Annie, who stood out for all the right reasons.
Vocally, experience eclipsed youth. Marti Webb’s numbers as Dorothy Brock were the indisputable highlight of the show, her clear and rich tone ringing out through the theatre and her delivery seemingly effortless. Dave Willetts (Julian Marsh) also showed off some fabulous range toward the end, though his gruff spoken accent was – perhaps intentionally? – not very New York. Jessica Punch as sweet ingenue Peggy was enjoyable to watch; though not the most glamorous girl or best singer in the line-up, she was an incredible tapper and had a heartwarming goofiness about her, reminiscent of Victoria Wood. While I liked this interpretation (Peggy should be the ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent) my friend disagreed and felt she lacked some star quality. Above all, I felt she and Willetts had no chemistry, and this combined with the considerable age gap between them made some of their romantic moments a little unsettling.
The vintage tunes were lovely, and expertly played by the orchestra, although their content is almost all silliness (see Shuffle off to Buffalo and Young and Healthy). A lovely vocal performance is given by the very endearing James O’Connell as Billy Lawlor. The tap dancing from O’Connell and the ensemble is superb; hardly a bead of sweat appeared on their brows as they clicked and shuffled their way through an improbable amount of dance numbers. Lovers of tap will be thrilled, but I found my mind wandered towards the end whenever another dance break emerged. You could feel the (largely 60+) audience audibly murmur with delight when one of their favourite melodies swelled and 42nd Street is sure to be a hit for a more mature audience. It won’t make you think or rock your world, but it will gently remind you of the fun and glitter of old Broadway.
Runs until 15 September.
Image credit: the 42nd Street tour cast by Craig Sugden