Many moons ago during a conversation with a much-admired critic who had 25 years’ writing in the national press and presenting on television, he suddenly turned to me and said, in a calm reassuring tone (which I needed), “Sometimes you can just sit back, relax and enjoy a show so be careful not to overthink everything if all it wants to do is entertain”. I recalled those words while watching the touring production of the musical 42nd Street (New Victoria Theatre, Woking) because it dawned on me very early on that this is just that type of show. The storyline is simple enough – a Broadway production, Pretty Lady, being rehearsed during the Great Depression featuring the street to stardom tale of chorus girl Peggy Sawyer (Nicole Lily-Baisden) who is bewitched by the bright lights of Broadway having recently arrived from the small city of Allentown, Pennsylvania. She catches the eye of leading tenor Billy Lawlor (Sam Lips) and soon becomes the star of the show replacing the fading one-time belle of the ball Dorothy Brock (Samantha Womack). And the rest, as they say, is a song and dance spectacular.
Like a dazzling firework display it explodes into a pyrotechnic production lit up by sparkling costumes, cracking choreography, a technologically creative set by Robert Jones (also responsible for the costumes), evocative projections by Jon Driscoll, and an absolute joie de vivre that is both enchanting and alluring as it draws you into their world. Although it didn’t have its premiere until 1980, and some may find it too syrupy and schmaltzy, but then that’s just overthinking, the thing to do at that point is lose yourself in songs that have become classics including Lullaby of Broadway, Keep Young and Beautiful and the deliciously seductive I Only Have Eyes For. The title song 42nd Street is a humdinger, a tap-dancing extravaganza and even my sceptical companion – musicals are usually an anathema to her – was applauding wildly.
There is also a historical authenticity in how it contrasts the low points of the Depression and the neon fantasy world of Broadway and the ebullient cast hit all the right notes and steps, and veteran Les Dennis is hilarious as producer Bert Barry. In fact, they all have a ball and by the time we reached the fabulous finale I realised I had thought very little which is a huge compliment to this enormously entertaining show.
42nd Street – on tour – www.42ndstreettour.com/#tour-dates