Monday, 17 September 2018

REVIEW: 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane


One of the most beautiful and historical theatres in London’s West End is the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and perfect for the ultimate musical spectacle. Therefore 42nd Street, the 1980 Broadway hit with a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble based on the 1933 hit Warner Bros film with music and lyrics by Henry Warren and Al Dubin, should be a perfect fit.

Young Peggy Sawyer is fresh off the bus from small-town America and just another face in the chorus line on Broadway’s newest show ‘Pretty Lady’. But when the leading lady Dorothy Brock gets injured, Peggy might just have the shot at stardom she’s always dreamed of.

Having previously seen it over a year ago and been blown away by the uniformity of the ensemble, I couldn’t wait to see this new cast change. 42nd Street has some consistently good areas: Mark Bramble’s direction and Randy Skinner’s choreography ensure the show looks on point, making the most of the huge Grade 1 listed, 2,196 seat theatre. Peter Mumford’s attention to detail with his lighting design literally shone through, with Douglas W. Schmidt’s set design and Roger Kirk’s costume design perfectly complementing the show. However, there were things that surprised me about the performance I saw. From a tap show that prides itself for its energy and consistency the show I saw came in two halves - act one and act two being completely different shows. 

The overall energy on stage for Act One was lack luster and unimpressive. A spectacle of this caliber should hit you from all angles and knock you sideways, but unfortunately the first Act did quite the opposite. The orchestra, eloquently conducted by Musical Director Jae Alexander, didn’t quite hit and felt underwhelming. For such a dance heavy show too, the energy from most of the ensemble was lacking: most notably in the kicks and arms, often creating messy lines. ‘Go Into Your Dance’ was one of the few saving graces of this Act. 

Act Two was a complete contrast. Much to the audience’s amusement, Tom Lister made a brilliant mistake with the line ‘Without a star, there’s no show’ by accidentally saying ‘Without a show, there is no star’, and this comment almost propelled the show into a new vibrancy and exciting energy. ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ was when this new lease of life truly showed, and by the finale I finally had my pulse racing - however for a show like this it was unacceptably late in the show. It was a shame too that the final numbers were the only times in the show that the orchestra fully filled the auditorium. Despite this act being much stronger, a couple of the ensemble members were still under-energized. I noticed lazy pliĆ©s from several ensemble members which is surprising given how competitive the industry is. It’s also sad to watch because it undermines the ensemble members giving everything into each move.

Tom Lister as Julian Marsh was my stand out of the evening. Tom gave an
exceptional performance, with a silky smooth, effortless voice that made me feel completely at ease and relaxed. He had the perfect level of charm mixed with authority to keep the piece alive, and his rendition of 42nd Street at the end was my favourite vocal moment of the evening. Ashley Day was a strong Billy Lawlor, giving confident vocals throughout and oozing charm at every moment. His dancing was sublime and always lifted the stage whenever he came on. Clare Halse gave a solid performance as Peggy Sawyer, giving bundles of enthusiasm to everything, and effortlessly gliding across the stage. Although her singing wasn’t as strong as the part suggested Peggy’s voice was, her tap and acting more than made up for it.

Bonnie Langford as Dorothy Brock gave a good acting performance although it felt like she didn’t have as much fun with the role as she could have had. Her singing sadly missed the mark in the first Act with the high notes not sounding comfortable. That said her duet ‘About a Quarter to Nine’ with Clare Halse in Act Two was my highlight for her, and Dorothy Brock’s kind side came more comfortably to Bonnie.

Jasna Ivir gave a great characterization to Maggie Jones, bringing solid comic relief with Tom Partridge (understudying Bert Barry). While Jasna had good timing and consistent vocals, sadly her accent when speaking the lines flitted regularly between an English and American accent. Emma Caffrey as Annie was another notable mention, with strong dancing and good energy, if not over-doing it on occasions.

Ultimately, I felt watching 42nd Street that the show was flat, but it took a funny moment from Tom Lister to break the curse and lift the show to where it should be. For someone coming to see and expecting a big spectacle, I came away disappointed and felt like I’d been given a 70% performance.

Review by Adam Yorke

Rating: ★★★

Seat: H25 Royal Circle | Price of Ticket: £75
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