Chronic Illness Friendly: 3.5/5…
Venue (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)
Level access to the theatre via an alternative entrance; a member of staff at the main doors will assist you through this entrance, where you will find a waiting hall reserved for those with additional needs. I found this worked well as a quieter area away from the main foyer, but do note that there are about 10 steps to access the foyer (including the bar). Those in this area were let into the theatre first, which was fab: not only did we avoid the sometimes-overwhelming audience surge from the main doors, I got to be the first one to take my seat. Empty theatres = my absolute fave. More info about the theatre’s accessibility here.
I think a lot of this chronic illness friendly review will heavily vary between person to person. The main aspect I would take into consideration is how you are with the sound of tap shoes, as this obviously features consistently throughout the show. This personally wasn’t an issue for me, but I’d advise listening to a couple of YouTube tap videos and getting a feel for how it affects you, ahead of booking tickets. Aside from this, the only things to watch out for are a couple of sporadic flashy lighting moments, and also the effect of the lighting hitting the heavily sequinned costumes, as this can be a little bedazzling/ tough on the eyes at times.
42nd Street has remained firmly at the top of my must-see shows list, ever since the show’s return to the West End was first announced. As much as I love musicals, I often get the feeling that the dance aspect of some of them is a bit of an afterthought; that’s why I was so keen to see this world-renowned spectacular, which features a musical within a musical, centred around flawless tap and musical theatre routines.
And were my huge expectations met? Absolutely. 42nd Street hands-down won not only my heart, but my hypothetical award for the best dance and choreography of any show I’ve ever seen. For me, the ensemble of ladies were the real stars of the show: each one of those girls was so talented in their own right, yet worked so cohesively as a synchronised troupe. I may be biased here, but it was a particular treat to see my old dance pal Courtney George doing her thing as part of the ensemble; even if I didn’t know her personally and wasn’t looking out for her, I think her stage presence would have had my eyes drawn to her anyway.
As for Randy Skinner’s choreography, there were frequent moments where I just wanted to stand up in my seat, throw out some cheeky jazz hands and declare ‘YASSSSSSS’ at the top of my voice. The choreography was pure Broadway musical theatre GOLD, the kind of musical theatre I grew up both watching and doing, and it made my heart ache in the very best way. There’s not a lot of that undiluted traditional style around in the newer musicals these days, and the Busby Berkerley influence was there without a doubt. If you’re a dancer and you see this show, the choreography will grab you right from the very beginning.
Now, let’s talk about Clare Halse as Peggy Sawyer because my goodness, that gal is going places. A serious talent and without a doubt, born to dance. Being so technically superb and light on her feet, combined with killer stage presence that gives that audience no other option but to fall utterly in love with her? She deserves WAY more recognition for her performance in this role.
I also enjoyed Sheena Easton’s portrayal of Dorothy Brock; ultimately, a rather unlikeable character who Easton definitely did justice to. Tom Lister was also brilliant as Julian Marsh, with his dramatic monologue to the audience right before the interval curtain fell being one of my most memorable moments of the show.
Everything about the performance was visually stunning, and Douglas W. Schmidt’s set design was no exception to this. We can’t not talk about that iconic Dames scene with the rotating stage mechanism and mirror effects. It really added an extra dynamic to the ensemble’s dance routine, which just goes to show how clever set and lighting tricks like that can transform relatively simplistic choreography into something so mesmerising. Just… wow. And just as a side note, how do I get me a go on the rotating thing? I might not dance any more, but I can lay on the floor and do one heck of a starfish. Clearly, that’s what this musical was missing. Hire me.
In addition, the costume design by Rodger Kirk was a wonderful reflection of the costumes of performers from the 1930s era, and again, made for an absolutely stunning effect on stage. The performance featured some of the quickest costume changes I’ve ever seen, and yet every single time the cast entered the stage in a new outfit, they wowed the audience once more.
The final thing I had to talk about was Shuffle Off To Buffalo. Now, back when I was a competitive dancer, I had Shuffle Off To Buffalo as a musical theatre song and dance duet. And before seeing 42nd Street, I had absolutely no idea that 1) that was where the song originally came from and 2) how…risqué the real version of that number is. 11-year-old Pippa’s lyrics, choreography and bridal costume were a lot more age-appropriate, thank heavens, but it was a nice moment of recognition to see the actual real version of the number on stage and where it came from. And let me tell you, it was a lot more aesthetically pleasing than my version featured in this hasty on-stage grainy image below. I did love that costume though…
Overall, 42nd Street was an absolute delight. You could argue that as it’s so dance-oriented, it might not be for everybody (my Dad’s opinion was that there wasn’t enough dialogue and too much dance… as if there could be such a thing…), but I personally absolutely loved it. It’s quite difficult to compare it to other musicals I’ve seen just because it really does stand as one on its own, but I’m so glad I got to see one of the old-school greatest shows with my own two eyes. Now, where are my tap shoes?