StageScan Pick: 42nd Street

42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane opened to a 4.2 average pro rating, including five fives.

Tim Bano (The Stage) found this “ultimate backstage musical… an extraordinary thing, crammed with songs… full of the sound and fury of tapping feet, illuminated by dazzling colour”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) agreed it’s “the mother of all showbiz musicals” and, describing “a tightly drilled army of hoofers” admitted “size is absolutely everything in this shiny, streamlined homage to a vanished world of razzmatazz”. Neil Norman (Express) thought it “designed to blow you away” observing “Its key ingredients may seem like clichés but this is the musical that invented them.”

Norman praised director Mark Bramble and fellow adapter Michael Stewart for “sticking to authentic production values”. Bano observed a director who “clearly knows this piece inside out” and saw “occasional flashes of real complexity” as “layer upon layer of artifice is built up”. He described a production that “recognises the rust that’s bloomed” on its “MGM-era tropes” and “paints them with silliness, rather than seriousness”. Cavendish  praised “tremendous spirit” with “no let-up”.

Norman described dialogue that “zings” and  songs which “may be politically incorrect” but are” just so damned singable” they “put a smile on your face that just won’t fade”. Bano noted designs with “every colour dialled up a hue” as “opulence and escapism meet Depression-era America head on” and hailed “a brilliant hat-tip to the iconic film” as “a giant art deco mirror hangs above the stage and we see the dancers blossom and grow into abstract geometric shapes”.  Norman described “Busby Berkeley dance routines” with “scores of girls in feathers, sequins and not much else”. Cavendish acknowledged “the female objectification” which, alongside a lack of diversity, makes it “almost the un-reinvention of the musical” but admitted  he “loved it in the way one can’t help loving achingly beautiful things”.

Norman felt there “isn’t a weak link among the performers” and Cavendish tipped his hat to the leads. Bano found “the good ones… great” and  saw Clare Halse “without doubt, a phenomenal dancer” also demonstrating “acting skill”, portraying an  “endearing brew of optimism and bewilderment” with “a sharp comic sense”. He saw Sheena Easton “embracing the silliness” by “almost pushing her diva routine into panto villain territory” while Cavendish found her “thrilling of voice”. Bano thought Jasna Ivir “hilarious” and  enjoyed Tom Lister’s “powerful baritone” while Norman praised his “sterling work”, also highlighting “fleet-footed” Graeme Henderson.

Cavendish thought “the garlands belong to the ensemble, dancing on the spot as if gliding on ice, wind-milling arms furiously yet gracefully”. Norman, observing “so much glitz you’ll need to wear sunglasses” hailed “old-fashioned entertainment on an epic scale” adding “I wallowed in every spangled moment of it”. Bano agreed: “When that army of dancers gets going, when the rows of lights start twinkling and tap shoes hit the bleachers extending towards the audience from the back of the stage, it’s simply, overwhelmingly, stunning.”

Currently booking to 22 Jul 2017 with tickets available from StageScan.

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