The 21st century appears to be the era of nostalgia for the high times of Broadway and Hollywood. Think movies like The Artist (2011) and La La Land (2016), whose successes at the Academy Awards demonstrate a navel gazing attitude of those fortunate Yanks who churn out the cultural fodder we all enjoy. Even Guillermo Del Toro’s monster/sci fi love story The Shape of Water (2017) couldn’t resist a series of nods to the golden age of musical comedy, and was amply rewarded for that.
42nd Street, whose original 1980 production won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Musical, shows that this tendency toward nostalgia is hardly new. It is a musical about making a musical, and that allows for some interesting flights of fancy. On the one hand, there is the main narrative, following a troupe of unemployed performers given the chance to star in a make or break new musical directed by the legendary, but jaded, director, Julian Marsh (Michael Praed). Amongst this, the naive Peggy Sawyer (Nicole-Lily Baisden) lands an accidental leading role thanks to her prodigious talent and sheer belief in the fairytale lights of Broadway. Baisden’s fiery feet display an immense talent. A supposedly washed out, with no less powerful a voice, Dorothy Brock (Samantha Womack) provides a cynical counterpoint to Sawyer’s innocent enthusiasm.
There isn’t really much else to say about the plot. The conceit of this being a musical about musicals means that the show can take any random aside it likes. A song where everyone is dressed as a flower, or a number that fills the stage with giant coins, there doesn’t need to be a rhyme or reason. The framing narrative provides all the justification needed for an evening of energetic hoofing, leg kicks and delightful singing. This is pure fantasy, punctuated by a flurrying tornado of tap and swing. The title number, 42nd Street, is a rapturous that is built up to with tease and ancitpation throughout, and is spectacular in style.
Womack is a wonderful singer and despite the relative lack of choreography afforded to her role, she commands the stage powerfully. Sam Lips, performing as Billy Lawlor, impresses too, he is a fine dancer, everyone is in this show. It is a wonderful feeling to sit back and simply be impressed by how well the performers gel together in voice and in movement. A humorous star turn by Les Dennis as Bert Barry also never fails to gain a laugh and a smile. Sarah-Marie Maxwell delights the stage too as Ann (Anytime Annie) Reilly, one of a team of chorus girls who aid the less experienced Sawyer.
Anyone seeking an evening of frivolity and rose-tinted bedazzlement will find something in this production. Director Jonathan Church and choreographer Bill Dreamer have done a splendid job ensuring there is no lull or time to think otherwise. This show is the embodiment of the ‘triple threat’, and a fine ode to 1930s cool. There is only fun to be had on 42nd Street!
Until August 19