Friday 7 September 2018


42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

As a musical theatre lover I've seen pretty much every show in the West End (most of them more than once) but somehow I hadn't been to see 42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane until this week, despite it playing in London since early last year already. I'm clearly a fake fan! It has been through a few cast iterations since threading the boards here in the UK, and the most recent addition that I got to enjoy included none other than Bonnie Langford in the role of show-stealing diva Dorothy Brock.

Despite the focus on theatre veteran Langford and the character of Dorothy, 42nd Street is really the story of newcomer Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse) who lands herself in the chorus on the latest big show by director Julian Marsh after she's only just arrived in New York City. A country bumpkin by heart, it takes Peggy a little while to find her feet in the production – quite literally – but when she does, she blows everyone away with her raw talent.

However, with Dorothy vying for all the attention, a not-so-secret romance brewing behind-the-scenes, and Peggy's naivety making her an easy target, will the production of Pretty Lady survive its out of town try-outs before dazzling audiences in the Big Apple? You'll have to watch 42nd Street to discover what happens with the show within the show. Meta, I know.

42nd Street is most prominently known and applauded for its phenomenal choreography, and wow does it deliver on that front. With a 40+ strong cast, any group numbers already look pretty impressive, but the incredibly tight performances of especially the tap dance sequences were nothing short of spectacular. The dozens of feet hitting the boards in swift succession, all simultaneously, really created a rather mesmerising experience.

Add in some clever staging, such as the curtain only rising to just above the feet to give the stars of the show their time in the spotlight, and the dancers performing a number while laying on the floor with a big mirror hanging above them showing the audience their dance moves, and it's hard to not watch with an open mouth as the spectacle unfolds on stage.

Unfortunately, the show's greatest asset also makes it its weakest point. There is so much focus on the visual that the storyline and even the characters left somewhat to be desired. Dorothy feels like a one-dimensional diva with a redemption story in the blink of an eye, while the real star of the show, Peggy, doesn't nearly get a chance to chance as much as she deserves. And what even is the story of the musical they're all performing in, Pretty Lady?

The book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble also feels pretty dated. The musical originates from the 1980s (based on a novel and movie from the 1930s) and while some of the old-fashionedness was charming, other elements, such as the director's teaching methods towards Peggy, felt cringe-worthy in today's Me Too age. Add to that that the music and lyrics by Al Dubin, Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren are delightful but also quite forgettable, really only serving as a platform for the choreography to shine, and not all different elements of the show click together smoothly.

Ultimately though, what the show lacks in the storyline department it makes up for with its stunning choreography. It's clever, it's tight, and it looks incredibly impressive on the stage at Theatre Royal Dry Lane. And in the end 42nd Street is good old-fashioned fun. Joyful, entertaining, and with triumphant tap-dancing sequences, it truly is a feast for the eyes.

42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane is booking until 5 January 2019. Get your tickets here.

🎵 Listening to: Josh Groban – River

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