By: Sara Lamerton, TRP Reviewer
It’s August. It’s raining. No big surprise there. Yet in the middle of one of the most miserable ‘summers’ in recent history, last night a ray of sunshine burst onto TRP’s stage pulling us out of the doldrums and into the whimsical fantasy world of 42nd Street.
Directed by Jonathan Church, 42nd Street is a love letter to Broadway. Told through the story of two stars: Dorothy Brock (Samantha Womack), an accomplished yet stereotypical diva takes the lead in the stage show Pretty Lady. Despite being unable to dance, her character holds enough gravitas to carry the show. Womack’s presence and poise, alongside her surprising (to me) vocal range prove she deserves the top-diva spot. And Peggy Sawyer (Nicole-Lily Baisden), a bright-eyed chorus girl, full of open-hearted enthusiasm, steps into her first Broadway show.
Of course, the two central characters clash and collide. Their personalities juxtaposed; their fates inextricably linked. When this narrative finally comes to a head, Brock is abruptly shoved out of action. With the production hanging in the balance, Sawyer must step up to prove she’s got what’s required. Gifted and hungry, she takes ownership. Spurred on by words of encouragement from both Brock and Julian Marsh (Michael Praed), Pretty Lady’s notorious task-master Director, Brock soon shines centre-stage. Baisden is certainly loveable and talented. Her nuanced performance perfectly shows character growth. Under the extreme pressure of showbiz expectations, a diamond is formed; both saving the day and catapulting her life into a new direction.
Although a classic underdog tale, 42nd Street doesn’t leave its first star humiliated. In a wonderful twist, we see Brock finally get her happy ending. After years of pursuing fame and fortune, side-lining heartfelt desires, she realises what matters is beyond the stage. For me, this is the most meaningful aspect of the entire story.
Other famous faces can be spotted in the cast, too. Faye Tozer, of Steps fame, plays Maggie Jones. Les Dennis plays Bert Barry. Both are a welcome comfort, bringing dashes of pantomime-esque light relief along the way. Yet the standout performance is Olly Christopher who plays Billy Lawlor. His vocal power is unmatched, and although his character has moments to shine, it would be nice to see more made of his raw talent.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, the story is easy to follow, enjoyable and translates well on the big stage. However, what pushes this from a pleasant enough tale to the next level is Bill Deamer’s choreographer. Coupled with the talented wider cast who display remarkable footwork and athleticism culminating in the grand finale. And, of course, no Broadway tribute would be complete without well-known songs that stick in your head and the stunning, pitch-perfect period costumes of Designer Robert Jones. All these aspects combine in impeccable timing – like the cast’s fast feet – shining like a star.
Fun, fresh, and fanciful 42nd Street is an excellent choice for anyone who loves musical theatre and needs cheering up during this dull, dreary British Summer Time.