Personally, every time I see a musical and the cast spontaneously burst into a tap number, my inner musical theatre child cries with joy. So it made sense that on my list of shows to see whilst in the West End is the Mother of all tap shows, 42nd Street.
Based on the smash film from the 1930’s – a time of crushing austerity amidst the backdrop of the Great Depression, which captured audiences’ attention in an America where the American Dream was nearly all that kept regular folk going – 42nd Street is a feel-good depiction of a famous Broadway producer, Julian Marsh, mounting an expensive musical show hoping to change the face of Broadway forever. Featured in this over-expensive musical is an array of tappers and dancers alike hoping to make it big in the next Julian Marsh production, not least of all the girl-next-door, doe-eyed Peggy Sawyer.
It is a show that is cemented in Broadway’s rich history of classical theatre shows; from the moment the show begins you know this is classic Broadway musical theatre. The main attraction of this show for me was the dancing; the music (unless I was a classical musical theatre aficionado or heard my Grandma sing these songs in the kitchen) was more less forgettable. The fact the dancing won me over wasn’t just that the show featured a great deal of tap, it was the fact that every single damn member of the show was so in time and every single movement was so perfectly drilled into them that you couldn’t help but let your jaw drop multiple times.
This is where my qualm comes in about people saying musical theatre is “gay” or boring. I guarantee you that if you got a world famous sports personality and put them on that stage where they had to do what this cast do twice a day nearly 5-6 days a week, they would fall flat from exhaustion by the curtain of act one.
In terms of the principal cast, Tom Lister of Emmerdale fame plays producer Julian Marsh and is thoroughly convincing in his role, bringing a bravado to the character that pulls the show forward and keeps it level after each show stopping number.
Aging celebrity Dorothy Brock (who is brought into Marsh’s show for more of an audience pull) is currently being played by actress, singer, songwriter, Lulu. Unfortunately, Lulu was not at this performance but her understudy played the character with conviction and, for me, I couldn’t find anything to doubt that she played this role on a regular basis.
However, the standout performer of the entire show has to be Clare Halse who tapped, danced, pirouetted, sung and acted the sh*t out of her character Peggy Sawyer. From the very first moment Halse started tapping at ferocious speeds, I was mesmerised. At some stages it looked like her legs were not attached whatsoever to her upper torso and were instead moving of their own accord from some supernatural power. Sadly, contrary to popular belief, Peggy is not the main character of this show but Halse fooled me otherwise as I was scratching my head as to why Julian Marsh and Dorothy Brock were the last to enter in the bows and not Peggy. It was an outrage because Halse deserved her own standing ovation!
Overall I can say that I am glad that I saw 42nd Street so I can tick it off the list of classical musicals that I’m yet to see. The tap is phenomenal and some of the show stoppers (and their set pieces) are an absolute spectacle to see on the extraordinarily large Theatre Royal stage. So if you’re looking for a night off from the contemporary musicals of today (of which I am a massive fan) and are looking for a step back to the golden days of the Great White Way, then 42nd Street may just be up your street.
Stin’s Final Thought: The trip to see the Theatre Royal is reason enough to purchase a ticket to 42nd Street. This theatre and its architecture is stunning! Just be prepared to feel extremely under-dressed.
42nd Street is now playing at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London’s West End. See the link below for tickets and information.