Tag Archives: John Plews

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

 

Flat Out
★★★★

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Flat Out

Flat Out

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 5th June 2019

★★★★

 

“Jennifer Selway’s exceedingly clever writing is maximised by a cast able to expertly tease out every laugh possible”

 

Flat Out is a good, old-fashioned farce. It details an afternoon in the lives of a small group of people in a prestigious but mice-infested South Kensington flat (hence the pun of the title) during the Brexit-centric month of March 2019.

The plot is too much of a tangled shaggy-dog story to summarise sensibly, but it begins with an illicit tryst between dental hygienist Angela (Jennifer Matter) and lawyer Giles (Richard Earl). It certainly grabbed everyone’s attention when, in the opening seconds, Angela removed her coat and dress to reveal a skimpy Ann Summers outfit. But the couple’s anticipated pleasure is endlessly delayed by a chain of unexpected visitors.

In keeping with the style of a typical farce, bad luck, coincidence, misunderstandings and mistaken identity drive a sequence of increasingly absurd and improbable events. The comedy comes from the thickening web of inexplicable statements and actions that only the audience can understand. Jennifer Selway’s exceedingly clever writing is maximised by a cast able to expertly tease out every laugh possible from each other’s escalating misfortunes.

It’s very much a London show, with an obvious fondness for the city demonstrated by references to its locations, landmarks and public transport. There’s a fair amount of satire, too, with nods to gender politics, greedy estate agents, social media and what it means to be rich or poor in a bitterly divided Britain. While the Brexit theme is a subtle one, it’s nevertheless an important thread running through the narrative.

Timing all those entrances and exits so perfectly can’t have been easy, but the coordination of this complicated, often highly physical comedy is superbly managed by director John Plews and the entire Ovation company. And the ingenious, economical set design by Emily Bestow made it possible for the various comings and goings within the flat to interact seamlessly as doors opened and closed and windows were hastily clambered in and out of.

The way the various loose ends are resolved at the end makes for a hugely satisfying conclusion to a play that balances hilarity with a sophisticated look at the way we live.

 

Reviewed by Stephen Fall

Photography by Darren Bell

 

Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Flat Out

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 30th June

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
A Night at The Oscars | ★★★★ | February 2018
After the Ball | ★★★ | March 2018
Return to the Forbidden Planet | ★★★ | May 2018
Kafka’s Dick | ★★★★ | June 2018
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

 

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