Digital theatre review: 42nd Street (2018)
James R | On 17, Jun 2021
“Come and meet those dancing feet, on the avenue I’m taking you to…” Those are the immortal words to 42nd Street, the signature showstopper from a musical that sets the standard for all other musicals. But while the title number is guaranteed to keep playing in the head of anyone who sees this glorious extravaganza, what really rings in your ears is the sound of people tap-dancing.
Directed by Mark Bramble, who was the co-writer of the show’s original book back in 1980, the whole thing is shot through with familiarity and affection. This London revival leans into the old-school fantasy of the musical, which follows a young girl’s journey from background player to stardom, and Bramble captures the sheer wonder of Broadway as a concept to fall in love with. That’s captured superbly by the simple, dazzling decision to stuff the stage with every possible dancer going. This is the largest-ever staging of the musical, and it shows from the opening number, which turns a playful display of choreography into a mesmerising medley of toe-tapping, precision footwork.
The cast pull it off with relish, with Clare Halse a delight as Peggy Sawyer, a small-town girl living in a lonely world who takes a bus to Broadway and finds herself just another person in a crowded chorus line. She’s joined by a charismatic Tom Lister (Doctors) as notorious theatre director Julian Marsh, who is determined to put on his production of Pretty Lady – only for his plans to be upended by his leading lady getting injured. And so Peggy finds herself with the chance to step up to the plate.
The timeless story unfolds against the backdrop of the Great Depression, and that desire to find escapism and joy through artistic entertainment still has a winning relevance today. It’s perhaps best embodied by the legend that is Bonnie Langford, who has previously played the part of Peggy on stage. She steps into the shoes of faded star Dorothy and is an absolute joy, moving from indignant prima donna to friendly mentor to Peggy.
Recorded in 2018 with eight cameras over three days to capture every flamboyant flourish in Randy Skinner’s choreography, the result has all the glitz of Busby Berkeley’s heyday and feels as fresh as newly mown grass. It’s a flawless spectacle – and beats out a fascinating rhythm that taps its way right into your heart.
42nd Street is available on BroadwayHD, as part of a $8.99 monthly subscription or $99.99 annual subscription.