Tag Archives: Darren Bell

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

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Afterglow

★★½

Waterloo East Theatre

Afterglow

Afterglow

Waterloo East Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd October 2019

★★½

 

“the energy peters out as the story, which is somewhat predictable, unfolds”

 

‘Afterglow’ first appeared at the Davenport Theater in New York and boasted the longest run the theatre had seen. Its UK premiere was at Southwark Playhouse, and now it is being reborn, here at the Waterloo East Theatre. It is a play about the possibilities of consensual non-monogamy, and the complication of love that stretches in too many directions.

The central characters are three men, but it avoids gay stereotypes – a purposeful decision by the writer not to talk about the AIDS crisis, coming out, homophobia and so on. In this way the story is a very universal one, a married couple, a younger lover, a decision to be made. We know this narrative well.

S. Asher Gelman certainly has a lovely knack for creating conversational dialogue, that feels based in reality. There is certainly a fascinating discussion to be had here, and the stage is a wonderful place for it, about the possibilities and challenges of non-monogamy. This play offers the beginnings of that, it just doesn’t quite get there. The play begins with an explosive start, in the midst of our characters’ first threesome together, but the energy peters out as the story, which is somewhat predictable, unfolds.

Peter McPherson plays Alex, the accommodating and then jealous husband left out of this new love. He is the strongest and most believable of a cast that is overall too weak to carry the production. In defence of the actors, the characters are predominantly one dimensional, but with the exception of McPherson’s performance, there is little to emotionally engage with onstage. The relationship between Darius (Benjamin Aluwihare) and Josh (Adi Chugh) lacks chemistry, and the accents of both these actors are off which is a constant distraction.

The versatile set (Libby Todd) which moves from bed to massage parlour to roof garden is clever in its possibility. The onstage shower is the jewel in its crown, a fantastic visual, filling the space with steam and water. Overlaying this is light (designed by David Howe) pouring through the shape of blinds or window panes, heavily evocative of so much cinema set in New York and so immediately transportive. As the set is changed, heavy beats punctuate, something that initially works really well but as the scene changes gets longer becomes a monotonous thud.

This is a subject matter that could create a really engaging drama onstage, but the production and its script, fail to meet this latent potential.

 

Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Darren Bell

 


Afterglow

Waterloo East Theatre until 24th November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Doodle – The Musical | ★½ | January 2018
Unburied | ★★★★★ | March 2018
Romeo & Juliet | ★★ | June 2018
Liberty Rides Forth! | ★★★★★ | October 2018
A Christmas Story | ★★★½ | November 2018
The Greater Game | ★★ | November 2018
Summer Street | ★★★ | May 2019
Eigengrau | ★★★★ | September 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews