“You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star”
In the rush to dole out the five star reviews that seem de rigueur for any big musical these days (22 for An American in Paris so their new poster shouts proudly), there appears to be a willingness to overlook storytelling for spectacle. As at the Dominion, the newly opened 42nd Street is a massive dance show which is undoubtedly hugely, well, spectacular. And it also suffers from not being particularly dramatically interesting, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book contains hardly any dramatic tension at all – will the show-within-the-show be alright on the night? What do you think?!
I start with this line of thought because as much as I was impressed by 42nd Street, it rarely moved me in the way that Golden Age musical theatre (my favourite genre of all, surprising no-one) at its best does. Based on a novel from the 1930s, the book here – as directed by Bramble – sacrifices any hint of suspense or meaningful character development for the headlong rush from production number to production number. And it just about gets away with it due to the sheer scale of what is being mounted here. 40+ bodies tap-dancing in unison in bucket-loads of sequins – bawdy and gaudy indeed.
Gower Champion’s original dances and Randy Skinner’s new choreography are the stuff of dreams. From the opening feet-first slow reveal to the mirror tricks, screen wipes, and the final stairway to heaven, the company are pitch-perfect, drilled in unison even from the very first preview to which we were invited. And it is tempting to say that the dancing alone is worth the ticket price – you just don’t see companies this big on stages this big (the full depth of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane is perfectly suited here). You just want a little bit more when it comes to the bits inbetween.
There’s strong work in the supporting roles – Jasna Ivir’s wise-cracking Maggie and Emma Caffrey’s vivacious Anytime Annie – where characters are allowed to have a bit of personality. But Clare Halse’s Peggy, the chorus girl who steps up to the mark has little time to do anything but dance, Tom Lister’s producer is strangely devoid of charm and Sheena Easton as the old broad who get crocked shines best in her comfort zone of singing. But when costumes (Roger Kirk) look this sparkling, tunes sound this glorious (MD Jae Alexander), and sets look this impressive (Douglas W Schmidt), maybe it doesn’t matter that it’s all hung on a flimsy story. (See more pics in my 42 reasons to see 42nd Street preview here.)