One of the all-time greats of musical theatre, this fantastic new production of 42nd Street is a truly joyous, uplifting experience.
It tells the story of hopeful young dancer Peggy Sawyer (Nicole-Lily Baisden) who arrives in New York city from small-town Pennsylvania and sets her sights on getting a spot in the chorus line for a new musical, Pretty Lady, that is about to open on Broadway, helmed by renowned director Julian Marsh (Michael Praed).
Co-writers and producers Maggie Jones (Faye Tozer) and Bert Barry (Les Dennis) have lined up ageing leading lady Dorothy Brock (Samantha Womack) to star but her participation comes with some caveats as her sugar daddy Abner Dillon (Anthony Ofoegbu) is bankrolling the production. Marsh would have preferred someone else in the role as while Brock is a good singer, she is not a dancer. Peggy shows up late for the auditions but with the help of fellow hoofers who can see her obvious talent, she gets her part in the line. Then, when Brock breaks her ankle and has to withdraw from the show shortly before opening night, Peggy is offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
The narrative is upbeat, a happy ending is never in doubt, but it is also a celebration of showbusiness, Broadway and its resilience too. The big all-company tap routines, tightly choregraphed and slickly delivered by a hugely gifted ensemble, are completely thrilling. Baisden is perfect as Peggy – all wide-eyed innocence and enthusiasm – and she gets excellent back up from the classy supporting cast. The set design from Robert Jones is superb – simple and effective. The main set is backstage and rehearsal rooms with other sets neatly flown in. Jones also designed the costumes – which certainly don’t skimp on the razzle-dazzle. And the songs are a familiar delight – from Lullaby of Broadway, to You’re Getting to be A Habit With Me, Shuffle off to Buffalo, I Only Have Eyes for You and, of course, the fabulous title number.
Starting life as a Warner Brothers movie, 42nd Street premiered in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression in America and brought some much-needed joy to audiences living through difficult times. Judging by the packed house at Leeds Grand Theatre this week, it is fulfilling a similar role today. It is such a lovely, life-affirming piece and is guaranteed to see you leaving the theatre with a smile on your face.
To July 29.