Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London – until 26 January 2020
Guest reviewer: Antonia Hebbert
Take a big, glitzy Broadway and West End musical and fit it into what is basically a largeish room above a pub. Shrink the huge cast to 13, and put the audience down two sides so that those big dance numbers happen in a narrow space and have to face both ways. Perverse? Yes, but it works – thanks to inventive choreography, mesmerising dancing and great ensemble singing.
The story is pretty slight – small-town hopeful Peggy Shaw joins the chorus line in a new musical, but has a lucky break (literally – the leading lady cracks her ankle) and gets to play the lead role. The attraction of 42nd Street is the dancing, and a string of catchy 1930s songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin – the kind you know without knowing you know them (‘We’re in the Money’, ‘Lullaby of Broadway’, ‘42nd Street’, etc). Satisfyingly, the show starts with a curtain rising to show tap-dancing feet – just like the Broadway/West End version.
The choreography is by Simon Adkins, who worked on the West End 42nd Street. It’s very ingenious in this narrow space, and requires the dancers to be razor sharp and quick. Unlike in a West End theatre, you’re no more than a few metres away, and what you lose in sheer force of numbers, you gain in seeing the detail and feeling the energy. It’s a good show for male and female dancers, and the costumes (Emily Bestow) are a lot of fun, with many sequins and nods to the 1930s.
Tamsin Dowsett is majestically awful (in a good way) as Dorothy Brock, the somewhat past-it leading lady who can’t dance. Dowsett has a showstopping voice that is literally a hard act to follow for Kate-Anne Fenton as Peggy Sawyer. Fenton is perfect as the sweet, wide-eyed talented newcomer, but doesn’t have the voice to come across convincingly as a replacement for Dowsett.
Never mind – the plot isn’t really the point of all this. Just sit back and enjoy that irresistible, spirit-lifting music, the rapid costume changes and one great dance routine after another. Rory Shafford’s Billy Lawlor has a big personality, and belts out the high notes with conviction. Charlie Burt makes a sparkly Maggie Jones, and Helen Rose, Samantha Noel and Jessica Wright are endlessly bright and fun as chorus girls. Musical director and band leader is John Reddel, and the director is John Plews.
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