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Review: 42nd Street, at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Spectacular musical that taps into a new – well, old – trend

13 April, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Clare Halse and the company in 42nd Street

Maybe what the people want now is dansicals, not musicals.

We arrive on 42nd Street once more, after all, following slushy praise for La La Land on the big screen and the never-ending popularity of Strictly Come Dancing, a fixture on the box for every winter Saturday night for the next hundred million years. You can already pencil in Bobby Beale to be a contestant on the 2037 season, presumably the year presenter Tess Daly takes the BBC to an employment tribunal for being replaced by Harper Seven Beckham after gathering one wrinkle too many.

In this new world of entertainment, which is a bit like the old, old world, we all just want to dance and it no longer seems a risk to book London’s grandest theatre and turn up without My Fair Lady, Oliver! or a show powered by a pop film soundtrack or a poster celebrity.

That may be unfair to Sheena Easton, on secondment from Las Vegas, for she’s a big celebrity among the right people, even if the Duchess of Cambridge, watching from the royal seats on opening night, was minus two when Sheens had a hit with Morning Train. But, although Easton’s West End debut, this show is all about the gigantic ensemble instead, their playful choreography and a barrage of blistering tap, dispensed like a firing squad that’s missed lunch.

Not a lot happens, the show doesn’t say much and what it does say is a little dubious and along the lines of the TV ageism rows that I was too casually joking about above: that performers, particularly women, should fear growing old and mouldy, and no longer able to be the star of the show. Easton’s ageing diva Brook, despite still being able to belt out the big numbers, finds herself replaced by Peggy (Clare Halse), the breathing cliché of a smalltown girl dreaming of making it big on Bwoardwaaaay.

So there we all were happily smiling along to an order to Keep Young and Beautiful – but it was all OK because of the sensation of the dancing. And it is truly sensational. Some of the set pieces here are among the most daring you will see in the West End, 40 dancers on the stage tapping on giant dimes or a grand piano, and then skating down an illuminated staircase. The Lullaby Of Broadway and We’re In The Money are all-out feasts, but you may fall in love with the comedy interlude Shuffle Off To Buffalo too.

Soon, each scene is more preposterous than the last until you don’t know which way the stage will revolve next. In a nod to Busby Berkeley, one scene sees a mirror spin in from the ceiling and we watch 22 women kicking out shapes like synchronised swimmers.

Worryingly, the man behind me was seal-clapping like Clark Griswold in a Can-can club, but the artistry and energy is undeniable as the back line, by design and intention, upstage the leads throughout.

The end product is spectacular.

Until October 14
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