Broadway’s biggest show is taking over the West End in tap-tastic style this year. 42nd Street, the classic dance production, boasts the biggest ensemble on London’s biggest stage, but is it big enough to charm West End audiences?
The show follows young, fresh-faced performer, Peggy Sawyer. Following her dreams, she becomes one of the many faces in the chorus line, but when the leading lady is injured she might just have a shot at stardom.
To me there are many things that could go wrong with this particular show: the tap can become monotonous; the cost of such a large chorus can detract from the production value; the ‘show within a show’ format might not appeal to the masses. Within five minutes of the curtain rising, you know you have nothing to worry about.
The shining light of this show is by far the cast, all 50 of them! The ensemble is as slick as you can imagine, with strong leads woven in too. Because that’s the way this show goes – ensemble first, and it takes something special to create that feel in a theatre full of talented principals.
It can be hugely challenging to make that much tap dancing interesting to a modern audience but Randy Skinner achieves it. The imaginative use of staging, lighting and costumes makes the longer dance sections engaging and wildly impressive, but when the dancing is that good it merely enhances its impact. Even the stripped back dance routines, where it’s just the ensemble and the music, are mind-blowing. It reminds you of the pure simplistic brilliance of a clean dance troupe.
London’s Peggy Sawyer, Clare Halse, is an absolute dream. Not only is she the West End’s most credible triple threat since Charlie Stemp, she really becomes the character and you live her character’s journey in confidence right through to the Pretty Lady finale. Her tapping is sensational and she paints a picture of a truly likeable character who you want champion from the off.
Sound performances are given from the other leading characters, explicably commanded by Tom Lister as Julian Marsh. Unfortunately with such a strong show all round, the average-to-weak link does stick out, and on this occasion it is Sheena Easton as Dorothy Brock, who is regrettably shaky. The character is good enough but her vocal ability is sadly not what it was and I feel she is just a beat behind everyone at times.
The plot can be irritating too. Some aspects of the story really aren’t explored enough and you wonder why they are even included. The ‘trouble’ surrounding Sheena’s character is very quickly brushed over. There are times you think Pat’s involvement in the story is going to develop but doesn’t and hints of various love interests for Peggy never seem to follow through. It is difficult enough to make a ‘show within a show’ with a gripping plot so I expected it to grab these opportunities at further drama or just discount them completely, rather than toy with them before moving on.
But it’s not a deal-breaker in this stellar production. You sit down at the start thinking ‘something’s got to give’ – a cast of 50 is a big expense, but there’s no corners cut here. The costumes, sets, and outstanding orchestra all match up to the immense cast and dance mastery. 42nd Street really is an all-round great of this theatrical era, lovingly nurtured for current tastes and executed with magnificent finesse. One thing’s for certain – you really must meet these dancing feet!
42nd Street is playing at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, until 22nd July. Tickets available now online.
With thanks to Dewynters.