Tag Archives: 42nd Street

42nd Street

42nd Street


Upstairs at the Gatehouse

42nd Street

42nd Street

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 13th December 2019



“we are swept along by the sheer feelgood factor built into the show, and the absolute precision and fluidity of this all-singing, all-dancing cast”


Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes, and the 1933 film of the same name, “42nd Street” is a Jukebox musical of sorts. There were barely five songs in the film, so the show ransacks composer Harry Warren’s and lyricist Al Dubin’s stockpile of numbers they had written for other films at around the same time. Whilst this is a bonus, there are moments when it appears obvious that these musical numbers were not written for this show, and they feel shoehorned into Michael Stewart’s and Mark Bramble’s whimsical and high-spirited script. But this is easily forgiven as we are swept along by the sheer feelgood factor built into the show, and the absolute precision and fluidity of this all-singing, all-dancing cast.

The show focuses on the efforts of celebrated but tough director Julian Marsh to mount the ‘greatest musical on Broadway’ during the Great Depression. He needs a hit and he needs the money, so he hires fading diva, Dorothy Brock, because of the investment pouring from her sugar-daddy. Meanwhile, out-of-town Peggy gate-crashes the auditions stealing hearts, and then the spotlight. An accident takes Dorothy out of the show and the rest is beautifully predictable and heart-warmingly uplifting.

The defining moment of the plot, just before Peggy steps in to save the show, occurs just before interval when the director cancels the performance and urges the audience to collect their refund at box office. A clever theatrical device that sets up the second act; but one that also reflects this particular production. Stylistically it is a show of two halves. Initially the pace is a touch laboured, lacking the light-hearted approach needed to do justice to the throwaway comedy of the dialogue. There are sparks, but the fire doesn’t quite catch. But, boy, the second act comes into its own, as do the cast. “42nd Street” depicts a bygone era, before reality celebrity and social media, when talent was what made a star. And Katie and John Plews have assembled a star-studded team. Each a triple-threat, they work together as a synchronised unit with barely a foot or a note out of place. Simon Adkins’ choreography could easily quickstep down Highgate Hill into the West End.

The show belongs to them all, the ensemble and principals alike. Kate-Anne Fenton’s Peggy is a light under a bushel, humble yet unafraid to be coaxed into living her dream. She is well complemented by the heartthrob voice and looks of Rory Shafford as Billy Lawlor. Tamsin Dowsett pitches just right the understated hamminess of Dorothy Brock, whose broken ankle fractures her career but heals her broken heart. Pulling the strings, though, is Alex Wadham’s commanding performance as the tough yet tender Julian Marsh. Still, the generosity of the leading players leaves the doors wide open for the minor characters to steal any scene they can. Charlie Burt is a ball of energy who lights up the stage, eclipsed only by the dynamic chorus trio of Helen Rose, Jessica Wright and Samantha Noël; their close-knit harmonies strikingly evocative of the period. An age brought even closer to us by Emily Bestow’s razzmatazz fashion parade of costume, and the array of well-known and well-loved showtunes, including ‘Lullaby of Broadway’, ‘We’re In The Money’, ‘Dames’, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ and the eponymous ‘42nd Street’.

A little slow off the starting line, we forget by the time we’ve reached the rousing and moving finale. And the show is only at the beginning of its run. Like Marsh says to the blossoming Peggy as she’s seconds out from her Broadway debut; “You’re going out a youngster, but you gotta come back a star”, this show will undoubtedly grow into a sure-fire hit.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell


42nd Street

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 26th January


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Nice Work if You Can Get It | ★★★★ | December 2018
Bad Girls The Musical | ★★★ | February 2019
Strike Up The Band | ★★★★ | March 2019
The Marvelous Wonderettes | ★★★★ | April 2019
Flat Out | ★★★★ | June 2019
Agent 14 | | August 2019
Pericles, Prince Of Tyre | ★★★ | August 2019
Working | ★★★★ | September 2019
A Modest Little Man | ★★★★ | October 2019
I Do! I Do! | ★★★½ | October 2019


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42nd Street – 5*


42nd Street

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Opening Night – 4 April 2017




“A sumptuous spectacle of sequins, shuffle and song”


As the thrilling overture comes to an end, the curtain rises just enough to reveal a line of sparkling tap dancing feet … 42nd Street is back in town!

Based upon a 1930s novel and subsequent film, 42nd Street returns to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane after three decades away. The story, set in the Great Depression, tells of theatre director Julian Marsh’s (Tom Lister) attempts to put on a show to outshine all others. Marsh has to cast Dorothy Brock (Sheena Easton), an ageing former star who can hardly dance as leading lady as the production is to be bankrolled by her sugar daddy Abner Dillon (Bruce Montague).

After initially missing her audition, and attempts by would be suitor Billy (Stuart Neal) to get her seen failing, fate intervenes and a small town girl, Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse) eventually lands a part in the chorus.

On the opening night of ‘Pretty Lady’, Peggy is pushed into Brock causing her to fall and break her ankle. Immediately sacking Peggy, Marsh then closes the show (nicely woven into the end of the first act) as he has no leading lady. The chorus intervene and tell Marsh that Dorothy is the only one who can save the show – he rushes to the station to beg her not to return to Pennsylvania.

With only a couple of days (comically condensed into about ten minutes) until curtain up, can this unknown save the show?

42nd Street is a nostalgic spectacular of a show, a delightful nod to a bygone era. Crammed with well known songs such as ‘I Only Have Eyes for you’, ‘We’re in the Money’ and ‘Keep Young and Beautiful’ the show will keep you tapping (and there is a whole lot of tap in the show!) throughout.

The sheer size of the cast makes the big production numbers such as the titular ’42nd Street’ utterly breathtaking to watch. The many costumes (Roger Kirk) are a feast for the eyes and with so many quick changes going on, credit must be given to the unseen backstage teams making it all look so effortless.

The set (Douglas W Schmidt) ranges from necessarily simple in the backstage scenes to stunning in the big numbers of the show. Design delights include the ‘Honeymoon Express’, a rather precariously placed giant mirror and the delightful dressing room set.

Randy Skinner’s choreography is, as you would expect, top notch. Tap on a scale you’ve probably never experienced before.

Wonderfully cast so hard to single anyone out, but Clare Halse’s Peggy is perfection and Jasna Ivir (as writer Maggie) is also one to watch. Shout out must go to the ensemble though, how they manage eight shows of non stop energy a week is beyond belief.

This is one big show, a classic perfectly housed in the sumptuous Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Sequins, shuffles and song – superb!


Photography by Brinkhoff Moegenburg




42nd Street is booking until 22nd July