42nd Street follows notorious director Julian Marsh (Tom Lister) as he tries to mount a Broadway hit at the height of the Great Depression. As the auditions for 'Pretty Lady' come to a close, Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse), a 21 year old from Allentown, Pennsylvania, arrives dreaming of Broadway. Eager to be hired as a Chorus Girl, despite arriving late, she tries her best to stand out from the plethora of other girls who all look the same as her. With help from some of the other Chorus Girls she catches the attention of choreographer Andy Lee (Graeme Henderson) and lands her first role. During the first show, she falls out of line knocking over the lead and star of the show Dorothy Brock (Sheena Easton) and is fired. When Marsh realises Brock cannot continue as her leg is broken, the other members of the chorus convince him that Peggy is the only one who could do the part and he should hire her back. The entire company convince her to say yes and with their support she gives the performance of her life; a star is born.
Clare Halse in the leading role is entrancing. She dances the whole show flawlessly and with ease. The audience were with her from the start and erupted when she finally took the leading role in ‘Pretty Lady’ alongside the equally talented and brilliantly adorable Billy Lawlor (Stuart Neal). And what is a musical without the songs that hold it together. Sheena Easton is a masterclass in vocal dexterity. Effortlessly drawing us in with her wonderfully unique sound caressing every note she sung as if it were a gift. As Julian Marsh says, ‘Dorothy makes it look easy, but it has taken years to perfect,’ and how true that is of Easton; the consummate professional.
This musical owes its life to dance, and the choreography does not disappoint. Randy Skinner brings this sensational show to life using a mixture of his own work and Gower Champion’s original choreography. These numbers come thick and fast, and really set the show apart from many of its more contemporary rivals. For me the ensemble make the show what it is and every single dancer is giving an outstanding performance, hitting their mark time and time again. This is the exact precision that is a necessity when the stage is filled with more than 30 dancers creating some of the most exciting, intricate and detailed patterns I have seen on stage for a long time. The use of a huge mirrored backdrop to reflect some of these patterns was genius and got a clearly audible ‘wow’ from the audience. From dancing on coins, perfect kick lines, to 38 dancers sparkling in silver and gold tapping in unison on a beautiful unfolding staircase, every number is bigger and better than the one before. The magnificence of every moment leaves the audience amazed at the beauty that has been created in front of them.
It takes a certain type of show to survive at Drury Lane, and only a musical of this magnitude could follow the crowd pleaser that was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Old fashioned Broadway musicals such as 42nd Street are one of the reasons many of us fell in love with musical theatre in the first place. This new and exciting version is sure to ignite that same fire in the next generation of theatre goers, and for that I am eternally grateful, for what is life without art?