Friday, 7 April 2017
Review 42nd Street
Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
Music by Harry Warren
Lyrics by Al Dubin
Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes
A Chorus Line
Showbiz, it's a tough life. The rejection, the money, or the lack of it, the predatory men, the hoofers slaving in endless rehearsals, the out-of-town slog, the sex, the drugs, the gangsters, the threats ... It's all there in the musical 42nd Street.
Ok, maybe in the Michael Stewart/Mark Bramble version, those elements are sometimes rather glossed over and the black and white grit of the Warner Brothers movie taken out.
In the movie, after gruelling rehearsals, the sugar Daddy of the production and the leading lady has to admit, "After three weeks of this, a leg is just something to stand on."
There's no equivalent of such world weariness in this Tony-award winning stage musical originally choreographed and directed by Gower Champion, but this is a dancefest of the highest order driven by those dancing feet. Indeed the curtain raises first of all a few inches, revealing shapely tap dancing female legs.
Based on a rather sleazy potboiler novel about backstage life by dancer and writer Bradford Ropes, it's the thinnest of plots. Peggy Sawyer (hey, Tom wasn't a cute little doll who could tap dance, but Peggy sure can!) arrives in 42nd Street in Depression-America from Allentown, PA.
Impressario Julian Marsh (Tom Lister) has managed to put together a show with a redneck theatrical angel Abner Dillon (Bruce Montague). The only catch is that Marsh then has to bring in almost has-been Dorothy Brock (Sheena Easton), Dillon's current squeeze, as his leading lady. Until she breaks her ankle and little Peggy (Clare Halse) steps in to save the day and become a star.
Toss in the the music of Harry Warren (born Salvatore Antonio Guarangna) and lyrics of Al Dubin which do retain some Warner Brothers grit and it's an evocation of the Hollywood/Broadway machine at its best. Plenty of sparkle and glitz, the irony more in the kitsch costumes and dance routines rather than the by-numbers book.
The stage musical also takes far more of the Warren/Dubin songbook than the movie adding the iconic We're In The Money and the Lullaby of Broadway from the Gold Diggers' movies, There's A Sunny Side to Every Situation and I Only Have Eyes For you amongst others. Using movie choreography as source material, it cleverly transposes some of the routines to the stage show for a musical spectatcular which whirrs along, every cog and chain in place.
It's all about the dance performed with military precision drawing on the heyday of Busby Berkley.. The darker sides of the story are toned down to produce a distinctly strange, truncated 1980 book.
Julian Marsh plants a smacker on Peggy to put a rocket under her performance almost like Joey "the Lips" Fagan in The Committments. However unlike with the latter, it goes no further. In the movie, Marsh is dying and the last alleyway scene has the implication in the lyrics of "You're Getting to Be A Habit With Me" and is not that far away from the troubled life of lyric writer Al Dubin.
The stage version is much more non-stop jaunty with long dance numbers rather than quick cut scenes.The cast is slick and pitch perfect - Clare Halse makes a perky Peggy and Sheena Easton, whose own discovery we remember, is a revelation with a great musical theatre singing voice as diva Dorothy Brock.
With an 18-piece orchestra and a cheery conductor in Jae Alexander, go for the impeccable dance and the songs. It's a slick and sassy amber/green as TLT and her sidekick dream of seeing their own names in showbiz reviewing lights!