42nd Street Sadler’s Wells Theatre – Reviewed 14th June 2023.
42nd Street directed by Jonathan Church has put together along with the creative team a fast paced, toe tapping (at lightning speed, I hasten to add) humdinger of a show! Which for me has been kept as it should have been true to the original and not modernised like some of the other classics. But given a little face lift.
As the show overture plays to a star studded audience on press night, black and white projections fill the stage showing life as it was during the great depression and lays the foundations of how it was for young actors during this time to find work and a place where they could escape the worries and strife of life outside the theatre.
leading lady Peggy Sawyer (Nicole-Lily Baisden), a small town girl looking to make it on 42nd street, arrives at Penn Station with a fire in her belly, talent in her toes and a dream in her heart. Baisden’s smile lights up the stage, and her dancing feet and singing voice fill your heart with joy. You can’t help but wish her success. with this show and with her part. With ‘Anything Goes’ already under her belt, a short bio in the programme, you know she’ll be good. But what a star she was! A lot more work will be coming her way!
The plot is pretty thin and somewhat dated in places with a little sexism here and there and to be honest some slightly boring parts. But when the dance numbers come in your spirit is lifted.
Dorothy Brock (Ruthie Henshall) the has-been relying on a sugar daddy (who she really has no time) fuelling her career and her true love Pat Denning (Michael Praed) waiting in the wings. Gives a safe performance and so she should. From the subtle, unaccompanied ‘I only have eyes for you’ to the gentle ‘about a quarter to nine’. Ruthie played her part well and as her short biog’ in the programme said a multi-award winning career preceded her, you would expect nothing less. One song that shone through was You’re getting to be a habit with me.
But a voice that stood miles out for me was that of Billy Lawler played by the multi-talented Sam Lips. Wow. He was tremendous. I could have happily watched him and Nicole-Lily all night! His rich tenor voice cut through the orchestration and filled the theatre with richness and echoes as his tap shoes danced across the stage. Really was a great performance and we looked forward to his return, every time.
Adam Garcia (Julian Marsh) gives a solid safe performance, being the demanding director Julian Marsh, and he certainly came across as his character intended. My only regret was that you never got to see his brilliant tap dancing moves until the last 5 minutes of the show. Such a shame!
Another cracking performance came from Josefina Gabrielle who played Maggie Jones. Well done her. I have seen many 42nd streets, with the part of Maggie Jones, passing you by without making much of an impression, along with the likes of Bert Barry, Abner Dillon and Pat Denning. But her performance was different. She held her own and all eyes watched her when she was stage. Brilliant.
As for Bert Barry (Les Dennis, Abner Dillon (Anthony Ofoegbu) and Pat Denning (Michael Praed). Such a shame there was not much meat on these parts. Les Dennis, with his speak-singing to most of his numbers, especially ‘shuffle off to Buffalo’, which was an to me and others, a rather awkward shuffle. But you can only work with what you have been given as a part. Pat Denning popped in and out which took you off the boil somewhat, but then it wasn’t long before another great tap song lifted the mood. And finally Abner Dillon with his Texas tone, didn’t quite add much to the mix. But again. You work with what’s been written.
The ensemble were really tight in their performance both with singing in close harmonies and choreography. They were truly the backbone of the show and would execute the fast paced taps to the elegant, soft movements. They were supportive to Peggy Sawyer and you believed in their kindness. Some of the ensemble seemed to be auditioning for their own lead with your eyes often finding them amongst the crowd. Why not! You go for it!
42nd street is an old classic, but this version has a new lease of life, a freshness, being true to the original and not modernised makes this show a joy to watch. With such great show-tunes as ‘We’re In the Money’, ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo’, ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ and the toe tapping finale.
At the end the audience stood up, myself included to pass on a well-deserved standing ovation! A night of pure pleasure. Please get to see this show before it closes on July 2nd. But if you can’t get to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, catch this iconic show on tour.
5 stars out of 5 for me.
Reviewers Mark Bilsby and Alison Gabriel