Bringing one of the most famous movie musicals to the stage, Mark Bramble and Michael Stewart’s adaptation of the 1933 backstage-on-Broadway tale relies on scale to secure success. Taking Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s fantastic collection of songs, they add more hits to the original list. Accompanying the great tunes, Randy Skinner’s Busby Berkeley-style choreography uses an enormous ensemble and every bit of the theatre’s huge stage. Spectacular is the key word.
As one of the many hit songs proclaims, “Who cares if there’s a plot or not?” Following chorus girl Peggy Sawyer’s rise to stardom, after breaking the ankle of her leading lady, doesn’t take much time. Instead 42nd Street is a collection of set pieces. Delivered big, with giant mirrors and staircases included in Douglas W Schmidt’s design. And what costumes – bravo to Roger Kirk. Who knew it was possible to be overwhelmed by sequins? To quote another song – “We’re in the money” – the producers haven’t skimped here.
Bramble is in charge and stamps his mark on the piece, like his potential onstage alter ego – another director – Julian Marsh. Tom Lister takes this role and shouts in capitals throughout, no doubt as instructed, detoxing the character’s old-fashioned pomposity and sexism. Camp is a clever way to deal with how the show has dated. But it isn’t the only possibility: so while An American in Paris give us old-age panache, here we have pastiche. Lots of humour and the over-the-top staging make everything ridiculous – deliberately so – and enormous fun.
Yet all the parody kills the characters. The star playing the star (she of the broken ankle) is Sheena Easton, who can belt out a number but fails to transfer personality into her role. Stuart Neal, as the shows tenor, makes all his smiling look like hard work; he is technically brilliant but the character leaves no mark. Thankfully, Clare Halse can’t be faulted as new star Peggy. She has ingénue down to a T and her tap dancing is superb. And Jasna Ivir, playing a matriarchal producer, is the epitome of value for money. Which is exactly what this show is – a West End ticket that’s worth every penny, delivering jaw-dropping, extravagant entertainment.
Booking until 10 February 2018
Photo by Brinkhoff & Moegenbur