Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London
Bonnie Langford makes her long-awaited musical theatre return in this tale of financial depression, showbusiness and the uncertainty that comes with both.
42nd Street has seen many stars in the role of Dorothy Brock, a double threat (her dancing ain’t up to much) and an actress who has committed the cardinal sin of getting too old with Lulu, Sheena Easton as well as understudy Steph Parry who became a star when she covered the role of Donna in Mamma Mia! around the corner on Aldwych. In Langford, the production has the gravitas of a talented musical theatre performer and a star name thanks to her surprisingly good turn in EastEnders. EastEnders has seen many musical theatre actors come and go, some with more success and popularity than others.
The production isn’t really about Brock, it is a love story to Broadway, its survival in adversity and the rising stars, like Peggy Sawyer played by an incredible talent, Clare Halse, who finds herself starring in the chorus alongside Brock. The circumstances – a misunderstanding about Peggy’s relationship with Dorothy’s secret lover, Dorothy’s broken ankle, Peggy finding herself as the lead in the musical within a musical, Pretty Lady– is nonsensical. It doesn’t really seem to have a narrative yet director Julian (Tom Lister) has staked his reputation on this as limited funds are offered by Abner Dillon (Bruce Montague) to ensure his Dorothy gets a leading role, even if she isn’t really suitable.
The lack of a strong narrative in 42nd Street doesn’t really matter; the audience isn’t here for grit, they are here for sparkles in the form of Roger Kirk’s costumes and Douglas W Schmidt’s set design, chorus lines of perfection from Randy Skinner’s choreography and some incredibly skilled tap dancing. There are some elements that seem uncomfortable in this ‘Me too’ era but it ultimately has a lot of heart, skill from its talented cast and warmth in this character-lead production.