A dance number in 42nd Street

Laura Sexton left the theatre with dancing feet after reviewing 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, in London’s West End.

There is something about a live orchestra that automatically transports you into a realm of showbiz. I knew from the moment the orchestra started playing the bouncy overture, I was in for a treat. When the curtains partially lifted to reveal a row of dancing feet we were witnessing an iconic moment in musical history playing out again. In that moment it felt as though everyone in the auditorium suddenly sat up in their seats, staring in awe at the tapping toes.

42nd Street is based on the 1932 Bradford Ropes novel by the same name, which was then turned into a Hollywood film in 1933, set against the backdrop of the Great Depression. In 1980 the stage production hit Broadway, later to be introduced to the West End in 1984.

The first scene takes the form of a tap dancing audition led by character Andy Lee, played by Graeme Henderson and a cast of around 40 dancers. It is this scene that sets up the musical as we soon discover the audition is for a new show called “Pretty Lady” and produced by Julian Marsh, played by Tom Lister.

The story of 42nd Street follows Peggy Sawyer, played by Clare Halse, a performer who aspires to tread the famous boards on Broadway. Peggy manages to get a place on the chorus line with  leading lady Dorothy Brock, a renowned diva, played by 80s star Sheena Easton. Due to an incident in rehearsal, Dorothy is forced to step down as principal, leaving Peggy to decide whether she is up to the task of taking her place.

The cast of 42nd Street

Pictured: (L-R) Clare Rickard, Ella Martine, Jasna Ivir, Clare halse and Emma Caffrey, in 42nd Street.

Halse’s ability to tap dance faster than you can blink, is remarkable and her petit frame gives the character of Peggy a naivety and vulnerability. Her obvious talent really shines through when we see her repeat the steps of her fellow dancers but ten times faster.

The storyline, however, is somewhat clichéd and a little weak, with no connections formulated between the characters or the audience. All the actors do a good job with the script, I must add, though a few American accents need a little polishing.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of narrative, 42nd Street is not about the story; it’s about the dancing.

By the sheer number of talented dancers cast, this show has to be congratulated. I’ve never seen such a big ensemble routine so brilliantly in-time. During the song 42nd Street, in act two, we see Peggy and Billy, Peggy’s somewhat love interest, played by Stuart Neal, and the rest of the ensemble tap dance down a humungous glitzy staircase, which I must admit made me hold my breath. This number I cannot fault; it was simply flawless. 

Another stand-out dance number sees the ensemble create geometric patterns with their legs which are then reflected in a gigantic mirror hanging overhead. It made everyone gawp.

Dance ensemble in 42nd Street

Pictured: A dance number in 42nd Street.

The singing in the show is overshadowed by the dancing, but not because it isn’t good but because the level of dance is so high. Sheena Easton, as expected, is able to fill the theatre with her rich voice, while Tom Lister’s deep, mellow tones make for a terrific vocal performance, and for me, the most impressive. 

My favourite song of the show? It has to be Sunny Side To Every Situation, sung by character Annie, played by Emma Caffrey and the rest of the ensemble. The clever use of set creates a wall of dressing rooms, from which people sing. It’s not a big choreographed number but I felt the audience was better able to appreciate the musical ability and vocal ranges of the cast.

Acting that shone through brighter than others was that of Emma Caffrey who, although not the leading lady, gives a charming performance; and Jasna Ivir, playing Maggie Jones, who brings an element of slapstick and comedy to the show.

Overall, the musical as a dancing performance is astonishing and I would recommend it to anyone who appreciates good choreography and loves a bit of pizazz. It would be hard not to enjoy a show like this; it’s just pure fun. 

42nd Street is currently showing at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane and is booking until October. Group rates are available.