Revivals of classic musicals do not always impress, as recent underwhelming tours of both, Singin' in the Rain and High Society have proved. UK Productions Ltd’s version of the toe-tapping extravaganza 42nd Street works on many levels, but fails to stir the heart like it should.
Set in 1933, it has the tunes to get you moving in your seat and an underdog protagonist to root for. Peggy Sawyer is a dancer who’s always at the back. She’s never played Broadway, so has everything to prove when top director Julian Marsh (currently played by Dave Willetts – Paul Nicholas and Tim Flavin at other dates) begins to cast actors for his new musical, Pretty Lady. Will she win Marsh over and step out of the shadows? Well, that's never in any doubt, but it's a whole lot of fun finding out.
As Peggy, Jessica Punch) is superb, capturing the young gal's naivety and talent with ease. She energetically hotfoots it across the stage, barely breaking a sweat. As her admirer Billy, Ashley Nottingham is also very engaging and incredibly athletic. Julie J Nagle plays pantomime-style diva Dorothy Brock for all she’s worth, bagging many of the show's laughs. And Willetts is as masterful and reliable as ever.
Pacing, though, is the production’s weak spot. The first half seems little more than a compilation of evergreen songs like "Keep Young and Beautiful" and "I Only Have Eyes for You" - with no real narrative to speak of. The second half zips by and is, at times, exhilarating. But the heart of the Big White Way is not captured; you rarely feel any emotion at all. UK Productions’ sets are sometimes a bit wobbly, and this one is no exception. This imbues the show with an amateur feel, even though the talented performers are far from rookies.
Graeme Henderson’s stunning choreography really gives this 42nd Street its pulse. The ensemble, dressed in period costumes, attack the Busby Berkeley-style dance routines with justified zest, rarely stopping for breath. For a moment, you do feel transported. With so much enthusiasm and recognisable show tunes, the production’s shortcomings do gradually fade into the background. The title track, for example, is pure Broadway magic. But the whole show could be if “We’re in the Money” was a fact here not just a song.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Manchester Opera House)