42nd Street is a long-running musical based on 1933 film adaptation of a novel by the same name. It is a story about Broadway, taking place around Broadway, and originally performed on Broadway. So of course, it makes sense that the production has made its way across the pond to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The original Broadway production won the Tony for best musical, and this rendition may be even better. This is a musical that brings song, dance, and whimsy to the centre stage, despite taking place in the tumultuous era of the Great Depression. It provides a bit of escapism for anyone that may be tormented by current news cycles and is an overall solid production that draws on the original but provides some new updates and improvements.
The Bramble and Stewart musical tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a small-town girl who has a dream of becoming a Broadway star. It’s a story that’s been heard thousands of times before, but Peggy’s adventure in New York is far more interesting than many of the rehashed starving artist stories that have been known throughout time. Through many trials and tribulations, Peggy grows as a singer, actor, and a person, and the audience gets to grow with her, sharing in her emotions and eliciting the same joy as she does when she breaks into song and dance.
Clare Halse puts in an exceptional effort as Peggy, giving an entertaining and heartfelt performance from start to finish. Halse is no newcomer to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and it shows as she takes a commanding presence on stage and moves about with relative ease, even during the more complex dance numbers. Her voice reverberates beautifully, and she interacts with her cast members naturally and poetically.
Steph Parry takes on the role as Dorothy Brock, the ageing and fading Prima Donna who isn’t quite ready to give up her fame and fortune. Parry does an excellent job of playing the sassy and spoiled Brock, bringing plenty of laughs along the way while also drawing the ire of the crowd in many instances. Still, Parry grows as the Brock character does, and the dialogue between her and Peggy is natural and unforced.
Tom Lister puts in a fantastic performance as director Julian Marsh, who is filled to the brim with ego, power, and impatience. He portrays a hard-nosed director in a way that brings the audience even further onto Peggy’s side, and his relentless ability to keep up with the character is a true talent.
While the acting is phenomenal, the dancing is even better. Randy Skinner’s choreography doesn’t miss a beat, literally. The 1930s style dancing emanates across the stage, with twisting and twirling cast members flying all over in a perfectly controlled sort of chaos. Considering the theme of the show, the choreography was always going to be highly important, and Skinner delivers exquisitely, keeping the glitz and glamour of the era alive throughout the show.
The dancing often helps to create smooth, seamless transitions from scene to scene, and to whisk characters away when new ones must take centre stage. It simply makes the show more enjoyable and makes the evening go by in a hurry, especially for those who have a penchant for dance. Not enough can be said about the dazzling performance, and the music that goes along with it is certainly just as important. Jae Alexander serves as the music director, and he carries out the role flawlessly. The songs are expertly placed, and the performances are second-to-none.
The costume design encapsulates the 30s very nicely, and the stage design is just as impressive. It creates an atmosphere that draws the audience into a different time altogether. It may have been the depression, but plenty of people were out having fun, singing and dancing into the wee hours of the night and still dreaming to become big stage stars, even against their best inhibitions. Ambiance is important for a stage show, and 42nd Street gives us all the ambiance we need to truly appreciate the story. Without such talented designers, the performance may be hindered to an unfortunate degree.
For anyone looking to escape to a different time and experience the magic of Broadway, even if Broadway is 3500 miles away, 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane delivers a slam-dunk performance. The actors, songs, and dances all come together to produce a musical that simply does not feel like it debuted almost 40 years ago or like it was written almost a century ago. The splendid choreography, dazzling lights, and undeniable chemistry between the actors is something to behold for any fan of song and dance. Whether you are looking for an escape from today’s reality or simply want to enjoy a fun, intelligent musical, 42nd Street is a production that should impress you thoroughly.