42nd Street – Review ★★★★

This new production of much-loved Broadway and West End favourite 42nd Street arrives at Sadler’s Well’s for the summer season – one of the most famous big dance shows of the past 50 years, with music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin.

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. The clarity and synchronicity of the tap dancing in the big ensemble numbers such ‘We’re in the Money’ and ‘Forty Second Street’ is second to none, delivering a crisp almost singular sound from the cast of 25.

In the show, big-time musical comedy producer Julien Marsh is auditioning and rehearsing for a new show called ‘Pretty Lady’.

Small-town girl turned starlet, Peggy Sawyer, is effortlessly portrayed by Nicole-Lily Baisden, who recently gave a similarly stand-out performance as Hope Harcourt in ‘Anything Goes’ at the Barbican. Her precise yet fluid dancing is exquisite, and her youthful energy and likeability are perfect for the part of Peggy, who is propelled to stardom when the stalwart theatre darling Dorothy Brock, played by true musical legend Ruthie Henshall, breaks her ankle.

Henshall’s vocals are a delight, with much richness and depth especially in the lower register, as heard in “I only have eyes for you”. Henshall brings breadth to the role, as an arrogant near has-been and showing moments of warmth and vulnerability, ensuring Brock is more fully rounded than a stock-type character. Josefina Gabrielle injects much fun and joie de vivre in the role of Writer Maggie Jones.

Complementing the female leads, Adam Garcia has the presence and gravity required of Julien Marsh. Whilst his vocals aren’t quite as assured as they might be, he more than excels with his command of the stage coupled with stylish tap moves in the finale.

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.

An early juke-box musical of sorts, including hits from Warren and Dubin’s earlier works, the score is chock-full of familiar numbers, keeping the action pacey and full of spectacle. The production has it all, spectacular costumes, dramatic lighting and a vibrant score played flawlessly by an orchestra with MD Jennifer Whyte at the helm.

The set is more light touch than the 1980’s version, but the proscenium arch is brought in to help frame the ‘Pretty Lady’ performance scenes and effective use of projected stills convey some of the New York city backdrop and news stories of the time, bringing a real-world immediacy.

There is very little to fault in the Curve’s polished production, but it does lack a sense of scale. On occasion the stage feels a little too wide, especially given the pared back set, as if the big dance numbers could benefit from 5 to 10 more chorus members. This show sets itself up to be big from the get-go, when the curtain raises to a back-lit, near full company tapping for the opening number. A few additions to the excellent chorus would help with the wow factor and deliver on the promise teased from the beginning.

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



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

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👤 📅15 June 2023
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📷 Main photo: 42ND STREET. Nicole Lily Baisden 'Peggy Sawyer' and Sam Lips 'Billy Lawlor'. Photo by Johan Persson

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