As a show with real Broadway style, ‘42nd Street’ proved to be one of the highlights of the Sheffield Theatres calendar. It oozed with such class and toe-tapping rhythms you couldn’t help but be swept away by the jazz beats and spell-binding choreography. This was musical theatre at its best.
‘42nd Street’ started life as a Warner Brothers film in 1933. Set right at the heart of the Great Depression, it became a remedy for those suffering from economic hardship. Its joyful show tunes and tap-dancing scenes made it a huge hit for audiences seeking an escape from day-to-day life.
However it wasn’t for another fifty years until Mark Bramble and Michael Stewart had the idea of turning it into a Broadway show. Its producer became $11 million richer because of the show’s popularity, and it’s not hard to see why.
The play is set backstage as a group of backing dancers rehearse for the new Julian Marsh show ‘Pretty Lady’, a guaranteed Broadway hit. The talented dancer Peggy Sawyer (Jessica Punch) is given another chance to shine after missing the audition, and joins the chorus girls in putting on the show. However when the main star of ‘Pretty Lady’ Dorothy Brock, played to absolute sassy perfection by Marti Webb, injures herself on stage, Peggy becomes the last hope for the show to go on.
This latest production of ‘42nd Street’ takes inspiration from the original productions, thanks to the directing of Mark Bramble himself. As the curtain came up, the audience were given a glimpse of only the dancers’ feet moving in perfect sync with each other. This proved that the dancers were indeed the very heart of the show, reflected as well by the audience’s incapability of picking Peggy out of the crowd during the dance routines. In fact, this toe-tapping perfection lasted for the entirety of the performance. There were times when you felt awed at what these dancers could accomplish; it was obvious that a lot of effort had been put into the production.
Bramble has created a production with flawless acting and dancing, although this did at times outshine the singing standard of the cast, which generally wasn’t as up to scratch. Renowned actor Dave Willetts gave a stand-out performance as Julian Marsh, and Punch as Peggy Sawyer was equally entertaining to watch. Her tap-dancing was incredibly fast paced, and her scenes with Willetts were hilarious.
The set design was also perfectly suited to the backdrop. In particular, the scenes of the ‘Pretty Lady’ performance were very lavish, with sparkly costumes and lighted staircases for the show-stopping dance routines. It was also both artistic and clever, with a good use of onstage lighting to create shadowing.
‘42nd Street’ has its roots in the Depression era, but can still been viewed as deeply relevant even today. After all, in a time of an economic recession, we all could use a bit of cheering up, and this show might be just what you need.