Wednesday 24 May 2023

42nd Street

 Curve, Leicester

23rd May 2023

Come and meet those dancing feet

In the programme notes for this new production of 42nd Street, director Jonathan Church writes about wanting to send audiences out into the night with their head in the clouds. His production, and especially Bill Deamer’s choreography and musical staging, reaches dizzying heights which do just that. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, this Tony Award-winning backstage musical (first staged in 1980) is a perfect homage to the adage ‘The show must go on’.

The show opens with Jon Driscoll’s projections which take us to 1930s New York: from the bright lights of Ziegfeld Follies in Times Square to breadlines serving food for the laid off. Another breadline is gathering onstage as a group of hoofers warm up to audition for a new Broadway musical called ‘Pretty Lady’. Despite having missed the audition because she couldn’t summon up the courage to go through the stage door, novice Peggy Sawyer wangles herself a role in her first Broadway show. At the other end of the production, things aren’t going so swimmingly. Veteran leading lady Dorothy Brock (Ruthie Henshall) has been cast despite not being in a hit for over a decade. Her jealous, millionaire beau is financing the run so what she says goes. But when Peggy accidentally knocks Dorothy to the floor, the show is put in peril. This is until director Julian Marsh (Adam Garcia) is persuaded to cast Peggy in the leading role.

If the plot is rather thin, this is more than made up for by the Busby Berkeley-inspired set pieces, each one sending the audience into a frenzy more than the last. Robert Jones’ mighty set is transformed from a vast, unglamorous Broadway stage (exposed bricks, pulleys, a loading dock) to the painted sets and gilt proscenium of the 1930s musical-within. The handsome period costumes (also by Jones) evoke a world of glamour and extravagance. Whereas similar musicals of the time like Follies (1971) and A Chorus Line (1975) favour a more psychological insight into the inner workings of Broadway, 42nd Street provides tongue-in-cheek, spectacular escapism. Harry Warren’s and Al Dubin’s score contains big numbers such as ‘We’re in the Money’ which sparkle with pizzazz, while the second act’s ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo’ embraces the vaudeville musical comedy style.

The cast add granular detail to their characters. Henshall brings out much of the humour in Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book, and adds a drollness so that all the laughs aren’t at Brock’s expense. Josefina Gabrielle and Les Dennis make a fetching double act as Maggie Jones and Bert Barry. And as Peggy Sawyer, Nicole-Lily Baisden exudes the energy and charisma of a bona fide leading lady. As Marsh says to her, “Sawyer, you're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!” Church and company have created a 42nd Street which evokes an era of tap-dancing, high-kicking, endorphin-inducing Broadway extravaganzas. The fact that it’s touring the UK at this scale will ensure plenty more people can come and meet those dancing feet.

42nd Street plays at Curve, Leicester until 3rd June, followed by a London run at Sadler’s Wells until 2nd July. This is followed by a UK tour. For further information, please visit

Adam Garcia as Julian Marsh in 42nd Street. Credit: Johan Persson