42nd Street Reviews – Sadler’s Wells

Reviews are coming in for the big new production of 42nd Street, now playing at Sadler’s Wells in London.

This Broadway song-and-dance spectacular features a hit parade of toe-tapping songs, including the title number, “We’re In The Money”, “Lullaby of Broadway”, “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” and “I Only Have Eyes For You”.

Olivier Award-winning actress Ruthie Henshall plays ‘past her prime prima donna’ Dorothy Brock, alongside Adam Garcia as Broadway director Julian Marsh and Nicole-Lily Baisden as ‘fresh off the bus’ ingenue Peggy Sawyer. Les Dennis plays Bert Barry the fictional show’s writer and producer.

The cast also features Josefina Gabrielle as Maggie Jones, Sam Lips as Billy Lawlor and Michael Praed as Pat Denning with Erica-Jayne Alden, George Beet, Charlie Bishop, Kevin Brewis, Olly Christopher, Briana Craig, Jordan Crouch, Rhianna Dorris, Ashleigh Graham, Alyn Hawke, Aimee Hodnett, Connor Hughes, Deja Linton, Sarah-Marie Maxwell, Greta McKinnon, Ben Middleton, Benjamin Mundy, Anthony Ofoegbu and Jessica Wright.

42nd Street has a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin.

This new production is directed by Jonathan Church with choreography by Bill Dreamer and design by Rob Jones.

42nd Street is playing at Sadler’s Wells until 2 July 2023.

Read reviews from The Guardian, Times and more, with further reviews to be added.

Book tickets to 42nd Street at Sadler’s Wells London.

42nd Street reviews

The Guardian

"Frivolous fantasy given punch, precision and panache"

"This classic song-and-dancer directed by Jonathan Church has a tight ensemble cast and sunny vibes throughout"

"While some 20th-century musicals are being revised for modern times (Oklahoma!, Carousel), director Jonathan Church has kept this one firmly in place, with period detail from mild sexism to the nasally twangs of those high female voices, deco sparkle channelling Erté glamour (from designer Robert Jones) and black and white news footage of the desperate unemployed."

"Baisden, last seen in the smash hit Anything Goes, has a dazzling smile to light up Broadway and plays Peggy the naif with innocent enthusiasm and turbo-charged tap skills."

"The other great voice in the show is the suave Sam Lips as Billy Lawler, with his strong, bright tenor. Adam Garcia puts in a solid performance as demanding director Julian Marsh, although for someone best known as a killer tap dancer, you’re just dying for him to come out hoofing."

"42nd Street is a frivolous show, utter fantasy, that bounces along very nicely; a paean to showbiz and the restorative power of a strictly rehearsed song and dance number."

Lyndsey Winship, The Guardian
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The Evening Standard

"When its star is onstage this love letter to Broadway is pure pleasure"

"There’s something about the sheer, silly exhilaration of tap that’s downright irresistible"

"When the tap routines are in full flight and luminous ingenue Nicole-Lily Baisden is onstage, this love letter to Depression-era Broadway is a pure pleasure. The narrative filler between the big numbers, and some surprising misfires from the star cast, are less thrilling. Jonathan Church’s production is an odd mix of big-budget glitz and touring-show mediocrity. It can shift you from elation to boredom and back again within minutes. Luckily, elation mostly wins."

"... the cliché of a chorus-girl who becomes a star, along with the attendant paraphernalia of dictatorial directors, sugar-daddy investors, and good-hearted hoofers now feels desperately old-fashioned. When Baisden steps on stage you forget all that. She has tremendous syncopation, a beautiful and powerful voice, and an almost unquenchable vivacity."

"It’s the “names” in the cast that disappoint. Musical veterans Ruthie Henshall and Adam Garcia are wooden and charmless in the roles of has-been star Dorothy and martinet director Julian. Henshall also brings a harsh, abrasive edge to her songs, even the wistful About a Quarter to Nine."

"There’s something about the sheer, silly exhilaration of tap that’s downright irresistible, particularly when marshalled into a formidable chorus line as it is by choreographer Bill Deamer here."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Times

"A fiery Ruthie Henshall and a feast of tap dance"

"At a time when so many theatre professionals are just keeping their heads above water, there’s a poignancy to seeing a musical about hoofers who know they may be only one night away from joining the unemployment queue. Not that this celebration of Depression-era song and dance wallows in gloom."

"Jonathan Church’s revival, which opened at the Curve in Leicester last month, didn’t send me home with quite the same tingle, but it’s still eminently watchable — especially the opening scene where massed ranks of tap dancers are put through their paces at auditions for a new show."

"Nicole-Lily Baisden is a vulnerable Peggy, while Ruthie Henshall breathes fire as the resentful Dorothy: confined to a wheelchair in Act II, she manoeuvres it like a vengeful Panzer tank commander. Les Dennis, who can always be relied on to make a genial cameo, plays the florid co-writer Bert Barry, while Adam Garcia is cool and imperious as Marsh."

"Bill Deamer’s choreography nails the big numbers smartly enough."

Clive Davis, The Times
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The Telegraph

"Wildly outdated, but utterly fabulous"

"If you want to feel the beat of the dancing feet, this production at Sadler's Wells is the only show in town"

"Jonathan Church’s revival, in association with Leicester Curve Theatre, follows fairly swiftly on the high kicking heels of Bramble’s 2017 production in Drury Lane yet cannot compete with that big budget staging in terms of sheer eye-bleeding spectacle. Instead, he brings a high definition clarity to the story..."

"It’s pointless to complain about the gossamer thin, outdated plot but all the same, it is a problem. Without a decent book to anchor them, the multiple song and dance routines seem to float free in their own ether."

"It is, however, fabulous in the only regard that really matters. A 42nd Street without virtuoso routines is no 42nd Street at all, but Church’s production is a triumph of incandescent liquid choreography, the tap dancing sequences so mesmeric and weightless they induce a sort of trance."

Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
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"Irresistibly joyous new production of the tap-tastic musical about a musical"

"Johnathan Church’s new production of the shimmering 1933 Busby Berkeley movie turned-stage musical is a sequin-studded riot. Sure, the plot of this golden age classic has always been flimsy at best: young hopeful Peggy Sawyer wants to make it as a stage star, and by god, she does! But there are enough epic displays of tap prowess to make up for anything as dreary as a watertight plot."

"Their demanding star Dorothy Brock is played to prissy perfection by West End veteran Ruthie Henshall, who channels both the great Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard and Joan Crawford in ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’ with terrifying accuracy, first swishing about in a pink marabou gown and later seething from the confines of a lavish wooden wheelchair."

"But it’s Nicole-Lily Baisden as the wide-eyed Peggy Sawyer from the backwaters of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who deserves the most praise, not least for constant flawless hoofing throughout an almost three-hour long show."

Leonie Cooper, TimeOut
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The Stage

"Megawatt exuberance"

"Fun, whimsical revival of the classic tap-dancing backstage musical"

"There’s a bucketload of chin-up positivity, plenty of sparkle and some excellent hoofing in Jonathan Church’s touring revival of this classic musical, which goes a long way towards making up for its small scale."

"Keep it bubbly, is Church’s clear intention.. Make ’em laugh is the message from the director who brought us Singin’ in the Rain on stage."

"Ruthie Henshall is excellent as Brock, nailing her haughty condescension and growling fury. Her instinct for physical comedy is well showcased in her inept dance routines; her richly intoxicating singing make You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me and I Only Have Eyes for You a joy."

"Nicole-Lily Baisden (last seen in Anything Goes) is sweet and convincing as Peggy and when she hits the accelerator, she is a fiendishly fast tap dancer. You really feel you are watching starry-eyed naivety transformed into star-is-born confidence."

Siobhan Murphy, The Stage
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i News

"Ruthie Henshall is full of sass in a shimmering revival"

"Expect routine after routine of exquisitely expressive tap dancing"

"Tastes, mores and morals are ever shifting in theatre, to say nothing of society itself, but one thing remains constant: everyone loves a classic tune and toe show where the cast tap dances up a storm."

"The ebullient ensemble taps up an absolute storm in the show’s opening number, which is a terrific statement of intent from director Jonathan Church, who previously had great success with that other legendary show-within-a-show musical Singin’ in the Rain."

"Josefina Gabrielle has a fine line in sassy dame schtick as no-nonsense producer Maggie Jones and Les Dennis bumbles around amiably in the background as somebody or other. All the while, the indefatigable Baisden continues to sing and dance without appearing to break sweat. Like the man said, let’s do the show right here."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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"In this production, both the direction from Jonathan Church and the choreography from Bill Deamer pay homage to the 1980’s original, whilst embodying a new flair and freshness."

"Small-town girl turned starlet, Peggy Sawyer, is effortlessly portrayed by Nicole-Lily Baisden... Her precise yet fluid dancing is exquisite, and her youthful energy and likeability are perfect for the part of Peggy"

"Stand out Sam Lips, in the romantic lead role of Billy Lawlor, truly has it all; a tenor so pure and reminiscent of a bygone era, complemented by much dance prowess. Excellent in his role of co-writer on the show, and comic foil to Maggie Jones, is comedian Les Dennis as Bert Barry, providing levity and charm."

"There is very little to fault in the Curve’s polished production, but it does lack a sense of scale."

"In any case, this is a precisely executed and hugely entertaining show!"

Louise Benham, WestendTheatre.com
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The Sunday Times

"42nd Street raises the roof with joyful tap-dancing"

"Where do we stand on tap dancing? Does a little go a long way? Or does a prolonged clatter of tap dancing acquire a force of its own, leaving you amazed that countless glinting heels could move so fast in unison? By the end of 42nd Street I was firmly in the latter camp. The physical achievement of so many dancers producing so many steps acquires artistic value. Professional technique becomes something pulse-quickeningly theatrical that, in turn, touches your soul and transforms your mood."

"After one dance number the auditorium at Sadler’s Wells erupted into shouts of acclamation. We critics are not meant to betray emotion in our seats, but I yearned to join the open rapture as the cast stood there, panting like National Hunt steeds."

"Baisden has a sunbeam smile, a decent voice and lightning toes. There is something infectious about her joy and energy."

"Jonathan Church’s production, first seen in Leicester, will banish ennui and have you marvelling at old-fashioned spectacle."

Quentin Letts, The Sunday Times
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The Financial Times

"Joyous 42nd Street rides a wave of dazzling hoofing"

"... Jonathan Church’s joyous production makes sure you barely care. This is an unashamedly feelgood show, carried along on a wave of irresistible tap-dancing, the sheer wattage of which makes up for the company’s (comparatively) diminutive scale."

"Crucial to its success is Nicole-Lily Baisden, playing wide-eyed wannabe Peggy Sawyer... Baisden is pitch-perfect: her Peggy combines a shining certainty in her own blazing talent with the awkward naivety of a fresh-faced ingénue. She’s a dazzling hoofer with a radiant smile, buckets of charisma and an easy rapport with the audience. There are hugely enjoyable performances too from Ruthie Henshall as Dorothy Brock, the embittered star-on-the-slide, and from Josefina Gabrielle as savvy, straight-talking writer-producer Maggie Jones."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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📷 Main photo: 42nd Street at Sadler's Wells. Photo by Johan Persson

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