42nd Street

Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, based on the novel by Brandford Ropes
Theatre Royal Drury Lane

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Bruce Montague & Sheena Easton Credit: Brinkhoff & Moegenburg
Clare Halse & Company Credit: Brinkhoff & Moegenburg
The Company of 42nd Street Credit: Brinkhoff & Moegenburg

The London musical season is moving into top gear. This sparkling new production of 42nd Street follows hard on the heels of An American in Paris, with Carousel at the Coliseum just around the corner, in every sense.

The producers have pulled out all the stops to ensure that this big budget extravaganza has what it takes to fill London’s largest theatre for months, if not years.

The 2½ hours are packed with high-class song and dance, no expense spared to wow audiences with the kind of uplifting show that might be perfect for these uncertain times.

42nd Street may have started out as a novel but it is best remembered for the 1933 movie featuring Ginger Rogers and Ruby Keeler, which provided the kind of Busby Berkeley escapism that was needed as America suffered from the Depression.

Although the setting is Broadway, the stage musical version did not appear until 1980 in an adaptation by Mark Bramble, who has been shipped in to direct this Drury Lane revival.

From the moment that a 40-strong chorus appears in front of the first of numerous traditional backdrops and starts tapping, the production values are obvious.

Roger Kirk must have designed 1,000 or more colourful costumes to accompany the hoofing, which choreographer Randy Skinner ensures is energetic and quite often breathtaking.

The story itself is of the typical musical comedy fairy-tale variety and not too far from the basic premise behind An American in Paris. In a desperate hope to keep 100 people in employment and relaunch his own waning career, Tom Lister as director Julian Marsh attempts to put on Pretty Lady, the biggest blockbuster musical imaginable.

As writers, he has the tuneful pair of Jones and Barry (Jasna Ivir and Christopher Howell) but the making of the show is reliant on temperamental diva Dorothy Brock, foisted on to the show by an ageing cowboy money man played by Bruce Montague.

The temperamental Miss Brock may struggle with her dance moves but sings like a star, which is perhaps not surprising when one discovers that she is being played by belated West End debutante and Scottish pop favourite Sheena Easton, best known for her work with the artist formerly known as Prince, not to mention James Bond.

Her vocal range is impressive, as one might expect, but Miss Easton also has a good sense of comic timing, which is much needed in this role.

At the same time, we witness the attempts of Clare Halse playing clumsy Peggy Sawyer to make the grade as a chorine, helped by tuneful Billy Lawlor, played by Stuart Neal.

Predictably, the youngster makes her way on to the long, leggy chorus line but is eventually thrust into stardom by her own efforts in tripping poor Dorothy, whose broken ankle leaves room for an understudy to make her Broadway debut, guess who?

It takes little more foresight to predict the outcome of Pretty Lady’s opening night.

The dancing, which was originally choreographed by 1980 director Gower Champion, is quite outstanding, while the comedy and drama carry along the audience.

However, the making of this show will lie just as much in a stream of songs that have become standards, “Keep Young and Beautiful” is complemented by the famous Busby Berkeley mirror, while “I Only Have Eyes for You” shows Miss Easton off at her best.

The audience though is likely to leave the theatre humming either the title song or “Lullaby of Broadway” with every intention of telling their friends to race up to Drury Lane for a chance to hark back to the glory days of American screen and stage musicals.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher