Friday 19 January 2018

42nd Street @ Theatre Royal Drury Lane

42nd Street @ Theatre Royal Drury Lane

The first thing you see as the curtain rises is a chorus line of tapping feet. And when you're about to watch a production of 42nd Street, what more could you want?

This production at Drury Lane doesn't disappoint. Almost every number has some sort of routine and Randy Skinner choreographs wonderfully. It's not just spectacular rhythmic displays and superhuman stamina - it's the dialogue between rhythms and dancers, the way it switches between toe-tapping joy and sensuality. Your own feet will ache just from watching.

42nd Street offers a glimpse behind the curtain of Broadway with a typical show-within-a-show narrative. It's not the first to do this and it won't be the last, but it certainly doesn't have the wit of something like Kiss Me Kate. The plot is whimsical, focusing on the hard work that goes into producing a hit: the cutthroat auditions, the endless rehearsals, the tragic injuries. At the heart of it all is the rivalry between ageing diva Dorothy Brock (Sheena Easton) and young ingenue Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse), both struggling under the tyrannical director Julian Marsh (Tom Lister).

But it's also a celebration of glitz and glamour. Sure, their production of 'Pretty Lady' is vapid at best, but this is a show about pure spectacle. It's about never ending chorus lines of synchronised feet; it's about cavernous sets that light up and sparkle; it's about showtunes with melodies you'll never forget; it's about that brilliant finale with all the high kicks, tap shoes and sequinned costumes you can muster. Easton's drawling vocal suits the part well, Lister has a fine voice, and as the leader of the cast Halse is "just swell", but really it's the ensemble who impress the most.

Based on the 1933 film, 42nd Street was originally produced in 1980 as a nostalgia piece. Nothing's changed there. It's a show that's stuck in the past, cemented in tradition. This production does little to update for modern tastes and its misogyny - particularly the older director seducing the young star - seems archaic in the wake of the #metoo movement.

Equally, though, the musical should be viewed as a genre piece of its time, a triumph of history. There are a few stumbles (a dodgy accent here, a misstep there, an out of tune piano at the back) but its dazzling spectacle is a wonder to behold.


Watch: 42nd Street runs at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane until October 2018.

Ticket courtesy of London Box Office.