The phenomenal ’42nd Street’ is a joyful, uplifting rhythm and shoes musical. And the 2023 UK tour production and cast don’t disappoint, with the Plymouth audience clapping along in time to the breathtaking tap on opening night at the Theatre Royal.
The tap dance fest must-see musical is set in New York’s Broadway district in April 1933 at the height of the depression. Musical legend Julian Marsh has lost his money four years earlier in the Wall Street crash, but realises he still has his talent, which he needs to make his latest show a success; the dancers and producers need this show’s weekly 32 bucks to eat. So far, so 2023.
Wide-eyed ‘Allentown’ Pennsylvania chorus girl Peggy Sawyer’s youthful idealism and optimism drive the show’s upbeat hopeful feel, as she meets fellow dancers and crashes literally into Marsh and future leading man Billy Lawlor, all in the name of fame. Where this musical differs with its back stage antics is that character intent is inherently good as opposed to backstabbing – new friends taking her out for dinner “five cups of hot water and one tea bag” offer well-meaning advice for Peggy to watch out for the stars of the show; ‘he’s a tenor but he’s got base ideas’ and the leading lady is in love with Pat Jennings, though her Texan sugar daddy pays for her career.
The plot is comparable to “Singin’ in the Rain”, which addresses a silent movie star and her unique voice not suitable for the “talkies” motion pictures, in that ’42nd Street’s show-within-a-show has to work around leading star Dorothy Brock’s inability to dance. The theatrical phrase break a leg was never so apt. Marsh’s call to close the show is met head on by the cast who can’t afford not to work.
The original music and lyrics for the 1933 film, by Warren and Dubin include the title song, ‘42nd Street’, ‘Shuffle Off To Buffalo’, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ and ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ and are just four very good reasons to see this show.
’42nd Street’ is as relevant today in the cost of living crisis, with ‘We’re In The Money’ opting to throw glitter (hotpants) on a dire financial situation as they celebrate finding a dime on the streets with a dynamic tap number. If you’ve ever found a pound coin the day before payday you’ll understand how they feel. The superb, sparkly and envy-inducing costumes belong to the show-within-the-show ‘The Pretty Lady’, while off stage the outfits are more authentic to depression-era New York – simple tea dresses, suits and hats.
Let’s mention for a minute going to the theatre in 2023, on the face of it, one of the most expensive nights out, with prices averaging £30-£70 a ticket. But factor in the incredible talent of the cast, writers, directors, producers, musicians, production team and customer service staff, the sheer energy and endorphin rush that comes from a two hour live show, and it helps to understand why the arts are essential to a lived life. Research theatre websites and the Internet for free or reduced tickets, opt for theatre tickets for birthday or holiday gift experiences, consider restricted viewing options; consider how many entertainment subscriptions you’re paying for.
I also couldn’t help but compare ’42nd Street’ with the endearing optimism and idealism that The Muppets give to the theatre, particularly in Muppets Take Manhattan. The by-gosh we’re going to save this show and we’re going to do it the right, fun and huge-production way; at times the character of leading lady Dorothy Brock (played superbly by Samantha Womack) certainly had sow tendencies towards newcomer Sawyer.
I’ve seen plenty of UK shows where a cast has to use an American accent, and it doesn’t always land as it should, yet every single voice on the stage transported me to 30s Manhattan. Even northern lad Les Dennis in his comedic turn as Bert Barry. Indeed, the whole cast performed ’42nd Street’ with such professional exuberance that the two hours and ten minutes flew by almost as fast as their dancing feet.
Cast: Samantha Womack, Faye Tozer, Michael Praed, Les Dennis, Nicole-Lily Basden, Olly Christopher, Oliver Farnworth, Anthony Ofoegbu Music: Harry Warren Lyrics: Al Dubin Additional Lyrics: Johnny Mercer and Mort Dixon Book: Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble Producers: Jonathan Church and David Ian Director: Jonathan Church Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes and the motion picture 42nd Street owned by Turner Entertainment Co. And distributed by Warner Bros. Running Time: 130 minutes Theatre: Theatre Royal, Plymouth Performance dates: 8th – 12th August 2023