A stunning new large-scale production, 42nd Street deservedly enjoyed a sold-out season at Théâtre du Châtelet, where it finished yesterday.
Presiding over this sensational, expertly realised production, Stephen Mear gives a clear demonstration that he is at the very top of his game. As director and choreographer, Mear gives Broadway valentine 42nd Street the sort of dazzling treatment it originally received at the hands of Gower Champion. The simple story is told in broad, clear strokes, and the colourful characters are brought vividly to life by a very well chosen cast.
The sheer size of the company is extraordinary, with the leads and ensemble comprising of some 46 performers. More than 30 pairs of tapping feet give opening number “Audition” a mighty impact, and the staging continues at that mighty scale throughout the show. “Getting Out Of Town” benefits from the vocal heft of all 46 performers singing together, with “Lullaby of Broadway” receiving a similar advantage.
The large cast size is complemented by the spectacular scenic design of Peter McKintosh, which manages to respect the traditional style of the show but also update it to modern and innovative standards of production. McKintosh frames the staging with the riveted steel that is building New York in the 1930s. A centrepiece of the design is a three story full width pair of units that represent the back balconies and stairways of a Broadway theatre. This is chiefly used to represent the dressing rooms in “Sunny Side To Every Situation,” and is re-dressed to be the swanky art deco Regency Club in Philadelphia. McKintosh saves the best for last, backing the “42nd Street” finale of show-within-a-show Pretty Lady with an absolutely stunning circular overhead New York streetscape.
Much of the scenery is enhanced with more inbuilt lighting, as part of the highly attractive lighting design of Chris Davey. Davey also nails the delicious visual humour of Dorothy Brock’s early number “Shadow Waltz.”
McKintosh’s beautifully detailed costumes are often as witty as they are visually appealing. Purples, reds and blues create a lush visual palette that is carried through the designs. For “We’re in the Money,” instead of carrying and dancing on giant coins, the dancers sport coin trim all over their gold and dark blue outfits, topped off by a spray of coins as a tiara for each girl. The girls wear outsized floral headpieces as Billy croons “I Only Have Eyes For You.” The traditional fashion parade styling of “Dames” sees the girls practice their deportment in mauve delicately bedazzled slips before returning as individual Ziegfeld Girls all in white.
As with the 2001 Broadway Revival of 42nd Street, the “Dames” sequences includes “Keep Young and Beautiful” for Maggie and Bert, with an extra soprano showcase for Maggie and extended dance break for the men, who are smartly attired in black tails with gleaming violet trim.
Mear also retains additional Pretty Lady number “Plenty of Money and You,” which gives a good chance to see Peggy in action as the leading lady. The short reprise of “Getting Out Of Town” is also utilised, as the company returns to New York from Philadelphia.
As with the scenery, Mear’s choreography is grounded in the traditional staging of the show but significantly adapted and enhanced – to terrific effect. Dancing is crisp and tightly uniform, and dance breaks are generously sprinkled throughout the show, in the way that only a director-choreographer can achieve. Highlights are numerous, but must include the infectious joy of “Go Into Your Dance.”
Musical director Garett Valentine has the luxury of 25 musicians in an open orchestra pit (remember those?). The overture and entr’acte are played at breakneck pace, but the accompaniment throughout the body of the show is more moderately paced. The Théâtre du Châtelet was built as an opera house, so the sound of the music wafting from the pit is wonderful, plus vocals can actually be heard live from the stage. (Both vocal and instrumental music are, of course, amplified as well.)
Heading the company is West End leading man Alexander Hanson, who brings significant class and polish to Director Julian Marsh. A handsome and commanding actor, Hanson plays up the spark of attraction between Marsh and young Peggy without making the relationship seem inappropriate.
Ria Jones brings to mind the mighty Ethel Merman as she plays fading stage star Dorothy Brock. Dressed in shades of lavender and purple as her signature colour off stage, Brock goes into full Reno Sweeney mode wearing red for her ill-fated brief appearance in the first preview of Pretty Lady. Jones speaks with a deliberately clear and measured tone, ensuring full clarity in her delivery. When singing, her vocal belt really packs a punch.
Monique Young is a charming Peggy Sawyer, a true triple threat but with particular skill in dance.
Dan Burton has the stage presence to make young male lead Billy Lawlor more memorable than usual.
Jennie Dale channels Melissa McCarthy as she makes writer and comic performer Maggie Jones a warm and lovable character. Carl Sanderson partners Dale with flair, playing quirky performer and writer Bert Barry.
Emma Kate Nelson has the smoky eyes and distinctive voice to make featured ensemble member Anytime Annie really stand out from the crowd.
Paris had this world class production of 42nd Street all to itself for just a short winter season. Visiting for the day from London was an extravagant way to see the production, but extremely worthwhile.
At the conclusion of this final performance of the season, Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, presented Jean-Luc Choplin, retiring Director General of Théâtre du Châtelet, with the Grand Vermeil, the medal of the City of Paris.
42nd Street was reviewed 4pm Sunday 8 January 2017.
42nd Street played at Théâtre du Châtelet 22 November 2016 to 8 January 2017.
Photos: #1 – #3, #5, #6 Marie-Noelle Robert; #4 Francois Guillot; #7 Simon Parris