FeaturedMusicalReviewSouth West

42nd Street – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Music: Harry Warren

Lyrics: Al Dubin

Book: Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble

Director: Jonathan Church

Foot-tapping tunes, glittering costumes and a romantic storyline make this production of 42nd street an iconic piece of musical theatre. Fast dance numbers performed with expertise, alongside memorable tunes, and a boy meets girl love story running alongside, make for a great production. A play within a play and with a bow to jukebox musicals – the show features songs already well known from films, opening with the iconic Lullaby of Broadway, which is one of my faves and reprised later in the show – this 2023 production of 42nd Street ticks all the boxes.

Not without its challenges as it follows the intricacies of a play within a play, 42nd Street is set in the era of the Great Depression in America and based on the 1933 Broadway film of the title name. Take from the novel by Bradford Ropes, the plot line is the story of Peggy Sawyer, a small-town girl from Middle America who is determined to succeed on Broadway. Her naïve appeal and determination gain her a place in the chorus line of a musical. But will that be enough?

Last night (August 15) in Cardiff, the leading role of Peggy was played by her understudy ensemble member Rhianna Dorris who gave it her all. And what a great performance this was, gaining her a well-deserved standing ovation at the final curtain came down. Up there and winging it with the best. Not only that, but she can both sing and act; an impish smile is an added bonus.

Making an early appearance is the mega-talented Faye Tozer as Maggie Jones, the matriarch of Pretty Lady, the play within a play, who holds it all together. Another treat was meeting up again with Michael Praed, who many will remember from numerous TV series – among them The Bill and the popular Robin of Sherwood. Praed gives a sensitive performance as Julian Marsh, the demanding Director of Pretty Lady whose misgivings may – or may not – be justified. Taking over from Ruthie Henshall as Dorothy Brock, Samantha Womack gives a well-crafted performance worthy of note, while former TV presenter Les Dennis, well known as a comedian and TV presenter, proves yet again that he can still hack it as a comedian, even managing a shoe-shuffling tap dance as Bert Barry, the necessary comic of the show within a show.

But enough of this. Top of the list is the dancing which is just – incredible. Performed by a great ensemble, with feet tat tap away with precision and speed, these dancers are also balletic with grace in every move. This is what 42nd Street is about. Including set pieces reminiscent of Seventies and Eighties shows such as Talk of the Town at the London Hippodrome and line ups a la Tiller girls contribute to a great evening of musical theatre.

If there is a smidgeon of a darker reality (a man is beaten up in a scene that has a strong flavour of Mack and Mabel) then banish any thoughts you may have about financial and other difficulties of today’s world and enjoy the lift that musical theatre at its best can give.

This is tapping dancing at its best., with a top hat and tails, stick swinging numbers, sequinned costumes by costume designer Robert Jones who is also set designer, and music and song that can’t help but give a lift.

Runs until 19 August then touring.

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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