42nd Street – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London

Book: Mark Bramble and Michael Stewart

Music/Lyrics: Harry Warren and Al Dubin

Director: Mark Bramble

Reviewer: Grace Patrick 

42nd Street is arguably best known for its spectacular visuals including its all company dance numbers, and it’s very easy to see why, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane contains the biggest of all the West End stages, and it couldn’t have gone to better use. Set designer Douglas W. Schmidt doesn’t appear to be asking why something should be included, but rather why it shouldn’t.

The set does something very clever in not necessarily trying to appear real. Generally, this would mean that it defaults to a more minimalist style, but in many ways, here it does the opposite. Set pieces and props are shamelessly hung from wires or wheeled in, with no real attempt to preserve the audience’s suspended disbelief.

Simultaneously, it’s not trying to make light of showbiz. Yes, Broadway is recognised as the glowing heart of the theatrical world and there are more than enough nods to the magic that this entails, but it equally pays attention to the constant underlying fear that no one’s career is really secure there. Anyone can be replaced, and there’s always someone else to do the job.  Because of this, combined with staging, the audience becomes delightfully complicit, both in real life and as the audience of the fictional show which provides the story’s focal point. They are present and they are part of it, and so they are accountable. Admittedly, this is often more than a subtle hint. At one point, there is even a giant mirror literally reflecting the audience back to itself. This is visually very similar to the original staging of Cabaret, and holds onto many of the same sentiments.

The enormous ensemble essentially functions as another layer of scenery. Characters emerge from the group, add their contribution to the story and fade back into Randy Skinner’s deeply impressive choreography. That’s not to suggest that this show becomes anything impersonal. In fact, it’s painfully universal.

The story of a young, naive girl thrust into a role she never even thought to ask for and essentially emotionally blackmailed by her director Julian Marsh (artfully portrayed by Tom Lister) is all too close to our own reality. A man in the foyer remarked on the behavioural similarities between Harvey Weinstein and Julian Marsh, and this parallel is very hard to ignore.

At press night saw Bonnie Langford in the role of Dorothy Brock for the first time. And Langford nails the balance of an excellent performer playing a mediocre one perfectly.  Her talent shines through not only in her own performance but also in how she facilitates the performances and chemistry with her castmates, especially Clare Halse as Peggy Sawyer.

42ndStreet is a wonderfully glitzy classic musical. It has an increasingly unique charm, harking back to Broadway’s Golden Age. It’s totally unapologetic, and that is absolutely something to be applauded.

Booking until January 2019 | Image: Contributed

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