Thoughts on ’42nd Street’ as it time steps into London

This week saw 42nd Street light up Drury Lane as it took to the huge West End stage. Reviews were mixed with newspapers such as The Telegraph, The Stage and The Times each giving it a glittering five star write-up whereas WhatsOnStage, The Daily Mail and Broadway World gave it just four. The Evening Standard and The Guardian sunk as low as just three stars; but I’m certain that they saw a different show to what we did.

This separation of opinions does somehow represent how I felt about the show. We walked out feeling like we hadn’t seen the show at all, it was somewhat an odd feeling. Don’t get me wrong, we did love the show itself but the odd feeling afterwards made me question what was missing. And I still can’t answer that.

Apologies for the little rant in this next paragraph but it has to be said. I saw the show the Thursday before opening night, so in previews, and we were sat in the stalls on the side of row S. Please don’t sit here, you feel like you’re sitting in London whilst watching a show that is actually on Broadway. The theatre is huge, ridiculously huge. It’s insulting that a ticket so far to the side and 18 rows back is the same price as the centre of the front few rows, a whopping £75 pound. Baffling. My first advice is to not sit any further back than row J in the stalls and definitely not in the Grand Circle or Balcony (we made that dreadful mistake for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – luckily that show was terrible anyway). This show, however, is not terrible – it is terrific and so we were so saddened to have been robbed of a LOT of money to sit in horribly uncomfortable seats with a terrible view. I think the Olivier’s should include awards for the Theatres themselves, this one would undoubtedly win ‘The Ugliest’ and ‘Most Uncomfortable’ each year.

Some reviewers have had a moan about the lack of substance within the script and that there is no ‘humanity’ (Guardian) but this show first premiered in 1980 on Broadway and so I think its pretty easy to skim over the fact that the story is two dimensional and that its saying you must ‘stay young and beautiful’ because we live in a different world now but you shouldn’t let this stop you from loving it. I personally think the story is almost irrelevant when you have a show that is such a spectacular tribute to Theatreland.

Its been over a week since I saw it and I’m still talking about it, thinking about it and awfully attempting to tap down the street to fetch a bottle of milk. It’s addictive.

Broadway seems to be taking over our precious West End recently as the beautiful ‘An American In Paris’ opened to five star critical acclaim and now this. Although, 42nd Street is completely opposite to the Gershwin hit, it brings the stereotypical glitzy glamour of Broadway with a cheesy grin and brash jazz hands.

I’d give this show five stars just for its production elements alone, you’d probably need a week to take a tour of all the scenery. It’s typically American with what appears to be an endless budget as each scene seems to add another huge truck. One scene sees a three-storey tower block, which fills the stage entirely, disappear into the fly tower; easily showcasing the vast scale of this production. It’s as subtle as an elephant storming into Buckingham Palace to have dinner with the Queen.

Yes her acting is slightly wooden but I couldn’t help but love Sheena Easton, she does incredibly well in a role that is difficult to add dimension too. Her voice is as strong as ever and she is as well placed as anyone else in the cast. Stuart Neal is impeccable as young heartthrob ‘Billy Lawlor‘ and his vocal talents transport you back to the golden age of musicals. Tom Lister was actually my favourite throughout as ‘Julian Marsh’, I didn’t expect such a bold voice, ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ was superb. Clare Halse plays the shows lead ‘Peggy Sawyer‘ and WOW, what a job she does. She carries the entire show and, like her character, keeps on giving and giving and giving. I’m positive that her performance in this show will definitely lead to ‘STARRING CLARE HALSE’ taking pride of place on the posters of her next West End productions. Somebody hand her an Olivier Award already, please.

Tap has always been captivating but not on this scale, a cast of nearly 50 tear up the stage with choreography that doesn’t hold back. The entire show would be worthless without the army of ensemble members that combine to bring a treat for both your eyes and ears. The famous curtain slightly lifted opening is the ultimate teaser for what’s ahead with each number constantly bringing something new and then the finale staircase is mind blowing. You feel like you are being invaded by a fearless force of impeccably talented dancers swarming over the stage with sheer ease. I urge you to go and experience this triumph.

I really do suggest you snap up a ticket to see this, but expect to leave the theatre feeling mind blown. In fact, writing this has just answered my question ‘what was missing?’ from the top of this post. Nothing is missing, it’s because there is so much to see that you feel like you missed something yourself. Now I’ve realised I need to go and see it again because the scale is so immense that you’re scared to look left in case you miss something on the right. So take my advice, GO and then go again!

With it being on such a vast scale and sitting in such rubbish seats, I feel that I cannot rate the show properly until I can, hopefully, see it again.

42nd Street is now playing at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London. For tickets, follow this link:


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