Thursday 15 June 2023

42nd Street - Review

Sadler's Wells Theatre, London


Music by Harry Warren
Lyrics by Al Dubin
Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
Directed by Jonathan Church

Nicole-Lily Baisden and the company of 42nd Street

Arriving at Sadler’s Wells for a month’s residency, Jonathan Church’s touring production of 42nd Street is an immaculately delivered five-star delight.

The fabled story of chorus girl Peggy Sawyer who gets her lucky break in a Broadway show when leading lady Dorothy Brock sustains an equally unlucky break to her ankle, is as old as the hills and as corny too. For such a yarn to suspend the disbelief of a hackneyed modern audience demands perfection from its performers - and Church, with choreographer Bill Deamer does just that, coaxing magical voice and footwork from across his company.

Nicole-Lily Baisden is Peggy. Outstanding in the recent Barbican-based Anything Goes, Baisden’s star now shines even more brilliantly. She captures Peggy’s initial frail vulnerability, and with a combination of her beautiful singing and mesmerising tap-dance skill, takes the audience with her on her fairy-tale journey.

Adam Garcia headlines as Julian Marsh, the demanding director of Pretty Lady, 42nd Street’s ‘show within a show’. Garcia’s musical theatre credentials are impeccable and he is compelling in both song and dance. As the villain of the piece (albeit with an ultimate heart of gold) Ruthie Henshall is similarly outstanding as Dorothy Brock with Henshall's singing, notably in I Only Have Eyes For You, proving a spine-tingling treat.

The shows comedy lines demand assured timing and confidence in their delivery. Les Dennis leads the line of featured performers carrying this responsibility and although Dennis’ remarkable background in stand-up and TV comedy gives him a raft of experience, he is a magnificent trouper who never overshadows Anthony Ofoegbu and Josefina Gabrielle in their contributions to the show’s gag content. Gabrielle also delivers moments of sung perfection in her role.

This is a production designed for the road with Robert Jones’ sets and Jon Driscoll’s projections providing a fine backdrop to the evening. If there is one small flaw it is that the ensemble is smaller than the script demands - but if the producers have understandably had to cut back on quantity, they score full marks for their show’s quality. The show’s music however sounds as if no expense has been spared with Jennifer Whyte’s 14-piece band making glorious work of Harry Warren’s classic melodies.

Shuffle off to Sadler’s Wells or catch the show touring until the Autumn. Either way, this take on 42nd Street makes for a fabulous night at the theatre.

Runs until 2nd July and then on tour
Photo credit: Johan Persson

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