Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London
From the moment the curtain lifts to reveal the legs of a chorus line tapping out a persistent, percussive beat, it’s clear this new West End production of the 1980 Broadway extravaganza has only one intention: to blow your mind with spectacle.
Based on the 1933 film, Broadway’s ultimate love letter to itself has a plot to make the featherweight An American In Paris, playing just up the road, look positively Shakespearean.
Set behind the scenes of a Broadway musical, it’s a high kicking hymn to the American dream, in which the goofy but talented chorus girl Peggy Sawyer gets a shot at the big time when the show’s star, Dorothy Brock (Sheena Easton), breaks her leg. There’s a hint of the Depression-era US in the threat of the dole queue outside the stage door, but 42nd Street, with its Busby Berkeley-style set pieces and succession of kitsch costumes is the Broadway escapist fantasy incarnate. Perhaps that’s the point — when the world is going to hell the only thing to do is dance.
Mark Bramble’s production plays a straight bat and somehow gets away with it. It’s not easy to say ‘you’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star’ without sounding like a douchebag, but Tom Lister as director Julian Marsh manages it. Easton is great as Brock, with a belter of a voice, while Clare Halse’s Peggy dances with infectious pleasure.
Your teeth might ache from the sugary choreography but resistance is futile.