Director: Mark Bramble
Choreographer: Graeme Henderson
Musical Supervisor: Gareth Williams
Reviewer: Rosie Revell
Welcome to 42nd Street, one of the most successful and longest running Broadway musicals ever, which has jauntily been brought to life for the Sheffield stage in this new touring production.
42nd Street began life as a Busby Berkeley film in 1933. It was a huge hit at a time when musicals were considered passé. It took Berkeley’s genius to reignite audience interest by creating memorable and totally unique dance numbers for the screen. The hallmarks of Berkeley’s work were toe-tapping, tightly choreographed routines, timed perfectly, glitz, glamour and memorable songs. It wasn’t until 1978 that stage writers Mark Bramble and Michael Stewart began work on the show as it is now. The show has been running pretty much since then at theatres across the world. It is a traditional upbeat musical but unashamedly so and it is all the more enjoyable for it.
The simple, well worn, a star is born story is given a new lease of life here. Impresario Julian Marsh (Dave Willets) mounts a new show with the backing of millionaire Abner Dillon (Bruce Montague). Dillon will only support the show if the main part is given to his girlfriend, fading star, Dorothy Brock (Marti Webb). Enter small town girl, Peggy Sawyer (Jessica Punch) who joins the chorus line in her first rôle and ends up taking over from Brock when she is injured.
From the opening we are transported into this very impressive interpretation with tight tapping from the chorus line. The songs are crisp and every word is clear which was an unexpected treat and it is amazing how many songs are known to the audience such as; We’re In The Money and Keep Young And Beautiful but it is the dancing that steals the show. The male and female chorus lines are given their own chance to shine; the ladies with an impressive mirror sequence and the men with synchronised tap dancing and bow- tie tying.
Marti Webb’s Brock is a diva with a vulnerable streak a mile wide. Webb makes a great impression as the threatened star and her solo performance of I Only Have Eyes For You is beautifully sung. The shadow play in the first act for Shadow Waltz is an ingenious introduction to her character.
Dave Willets’ Julian is suitably stern and curmudgeonly but in the second act he makes the rôle his own with a fantastic rendition of Lullaby of Broadway and the final powerful rendition of 42nd Street.
Jessica Punch clearly enjoys her rôle as Peggy and she is funny and totally believable as the shy starlet blossoming into a real star by the show’s finale. As Julian tells her “You’re going out a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star.” The audience can’t help but love her as she develops from being a nervous, clumsy, ingénue to an accomplished performer.
Punch’s solo tap dance at the end is excellent, just slightly hampered by what appears to be a dodgy microphone. This is my only, minor criticism of the show, microphone problems meant we often lost the beginning of dialogue as it kept cutting out. Frustrating but not a major problem as the show has enough power to swiftly make me forget this.
The whole cast are impressive and special mention must be made to the excellent comedy support provided by Graham Hoadly (Bert Barry) and Carol Ball (Maggie Jones). They were underused which was a real shame.
The spirit of Busby Berkeley is alive and well and currently residing in Sheffield until Saturday.