42nd Street

Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, based on the novel by Bradford Ropes
Chichester Festival Theatre production.
Chichester Festival Theatre

Production photo by Johan Persson

Screened in 1933 soon after the Wall Street Crash, when the banks failed and almost everyone lost their money, this show is pure escapism, full of youthful exuberance, boundless energy, and, most of all, hope for a brighter future - what better time to present it on stage.

The story is minimal - girl from small American town misses audition but is hired for the chorus - lead role goes to a ‘name’ whose rich boyfriend is backing the show, but she breaks her ankle and new girl is told “You’re going out there a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star”. There is a little love interest along the way.

That’s about it as far as plot goes, but there are songs in abundance, and every one a gem. You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me, I Only Have Eyes for You, and Lullaby of Broadway being a small sample. The back curtains part from time to time to reveal the magnificent fourteen piece orchestra fronted by Musical Director Julian Kelly. We only have his back view, but instructions to his musicians are exaggerated and very obvious. He puts his heart and soul into the performance and the orchestration is a dream.

Except for a rehearsal piano the large thrust stage is bare, and voices echo around the auditorium passing the exciting news that ‘Julian Marsh is doing a show’. No curtain here to reveal the famous line up of tapping feet - the company rise through the floor, backs to the audience, and in perfect unison engaged in a faultlessly executed tap routine. What an opening!

The scenes change mostly with images projected onto the backdrop - New York, Philadelphia, a railway station - but the depression is not totally forgotten and the most poignant is the succession of newspaper headlines giving news of the state of the banks, and the numbers now on the bread-line, all this backing the extravagantly staged We’re in the Money. Let’s ignore reality and have a good time!

Another extravagant staging, and one to rival the best of Las Vegas, is for the song Dames: the girls, exquisitely costumed and with towering head-dresses, parade down the aisles and onto the stage. As the man said, “Who cares if there’s a plot or not when you’ve got a lot of dames?”

A superb interpretation of the title song begins with a busy street scene but turns into a version of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, with every emotion expressed in dance, most especially by Lauren Hall’s lead role as Peggy showing rage, frustration and jealousy by her frantically tapping feet.

No dancing this time from Tim Flavin - he is the Broadway director desperate for a hit to offset his financial losses. The intensity of his dilemma doesn’t quite ring true with some of his speeches on the melodramatic side - not sure if this was intentional - but he closes the show thoughtfully and movingly.

Kathryn Evans is arrogant and haughty as the prima donna Dorothy Brock, but mellows when united with her true love. Her duet with Hall - About a Quarter to Nine - was so emotional it brought tears to the eyes, and Chichester favourite Louise Plowright is great fun as the wise-cracking Maggie.

Paul Kerryson directs the show at a breathtaking pace; the choreography by Andrew Wright (with a slight not towards the style of Busby Berkeley) is phenomenal and performed to perfection by this talented and energetic ensemble who looked as they were thoroughly enjoying themselves - not a synthetic smile among them.

If you don’t care for song and dance, then maybe it’s not for you, but for me (and it seemed all the audience) sheer bliss - enough to lift anyone’s spirits for weeks.

Playing in repertory with "Pygmalion" until 28th August, with "Enron" returning to Chichester from 10th to 18th September.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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