42nd Street – Review

42nd Street. All images Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

42nd Street could have been written for its young star Clare Hulse. There’s a line said by hard-nosed – but soft hearted – stage director Julian Marsh to his terrified ingĂ©nue: “Sawyer, you’re going out a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star!”

So no pressure last night when this rising star, who has mostly been a stand-in for other performers, got her moment to shine. She went out on the opening night of a sold-out 42nd Street in London’s top theatre, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, in front of royalty, and tapped her little heart out.

It’s fair to say that the dynamic Hulse went off to the post show party as very much a new luminous new star of West End musicals.

If there is one show to see in London’s West End this year then it is 42nd Street.

Its budget must be colossal for no expense has been spared to bring this much loved tap dance musical extravaganza back to the stage (thank you producers Michael Grade and Michael Linnit).

Sheena Easton has been tempted back from America for her London stage debut, there is an enormous cast of 55 top dancers and actors that perform the most astonishing, jaw-dropping, dance routines choreographed by Randy Skinner.

Roger Kirk’s costumes are sensational. They are so dazzling for We’re In The Money that you almost need sunshades. For Dames there is a rainbow of frocks on parade plus the guys in white tie. Could it be any more perfect?

And every classic, memorable Warren & Dubin song, is given a five-star treatment by musical director Jae Alexander and his incredible orchestra.

Written and directed by Broadway veteran, Mark Bramble (co-author Michael Stewart), 42nd Street is based on a 1933 film that set out to lift the spirits of a nation defeated during The Great Depression. If ever we need another lift it is now.

It is the ultimate aspirational, feelgood, backstage musical which tells the story of young Peggy Sawyer (Hulse) from Allentown, Pennsylvania, who spends her last pennies on a bus-ride to New York determined to break into musicals.

But her nerve fails her when she gets to the theatre where the auditions are being held for Julian Marsh’s next big show, Pretty Lady. Her saviour is the show’s juvenile lead, Billy Lawlor (the all-singing, all-dancing Stuart Neal), who spots her potential and pushes her forward.

The show has a spectacular opening with the audience seeing a stage full of legs all furiously tap-dancing, before the curtain rises to reveal the hopefuls being put through their paces by dance captain Andy (Graeme Henderson).

The star of Pretty Lady is to be a veteran diva, Dorothy Brock, who has only got the gig because her besotted sugar daddy is funding the production.

Brock (Sheena Easton, every inch a superstar) can sing but dancing isn’t her strong suit. When she is injured Pretty Lady, and the future of its entire, desperate, cash-strapped cast, looks in doubt. Will the show go on?

There’s plenty of comedy from Pretty Lady’s writer and character lead, Maggie Jones (Jasna Ivir) who is a bit of a mother hen to the chorus-girls.

Tom Lister, as the snarling and committed Julian Marsh, tries to play hardball with the company but proves a pussycat – hell, Lister is far too charismatic to be unlikable, even for a second. It’s no wonder little Peggy is rather smitten.

Sharing top billing with all this remarkable talent are the songs and the hoofing. In Keep Young And Beautiful we get the full Busby Berkeley treatment, while the rest are unforgettable blockbusters – I Only Have Eyes For You, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Lullaby Of Broadway, Shuffle Off To Buffalo and the eponymous 42nd Street.

Come and meet those dancing feet…..you’ll leave Drury Lane and be tap dancing your way through Covent Garden.

A toe-tapping triumph.

42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane is currently booking seats until July.

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