Arts In LA

Broadway HD 42nd Street

42nd Street

Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz

The cast of 42nd Street

Tap-dancing is a magical treat for audiences. Athletic and strenuous, it’s the musical theater equivalent of football. Hearts beat faster watching a collection of hoofers pound the floor in unison. Director extraordinaire Gower Champion understood the thrills a tap show would provide and turned the Broadway hit 42nd Street into a seminal work.
   42nd Street is a perfect musical. Besides the dancing, the score provides a hit parade from the 1930s by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, a goofy, nostalgic book by Mark Bramble and Michael Stewart, and a glimpse into why performers sweat their tights off to enrapture an audience. BroadwayHD has filmed the latest London revival, capturing forever the joys of this beloved musical comedy.
   The plot has become the standard for all backstage musical plots. A newcomer accidentally injures the star of a Broadway musical and goes on as her replacement, becoming the toast of Broadway. At the height of the Great Depression, Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse) of Allentown, Pa., a pixie with a sharp shuffle-step, misses her audition for Pretty Lady by Julian Marsh (Tom Lister). Her raw talent and innate charms win Peggy a chorus role regardless, and she rehearses with a team of chorines and chorus boys, catching the eye of the boy tenor Billy Lawlor (Philip Bertioli). The star, Dorothy Brock (Bonnie Langford), past her prime, takes an instant dislike to the girl. But when Peggy accidentally breaks Dorothy’s ankle during an out-of-town performance, Pretty Lady must close before returning to New York, putting all those kids out of work again. However, that wouldn’t be in the spirit of Broadway, where the show must go on. If only someone with talent and knowledge of Pretty Lady could replace Brock in time for the opening.

Some of the dialogue in 42nd Street may be on the nose, but it perfectly fits with the backstage genre of the Warner Bros. ’30s musicals to which the show pays homage. Stewart and Bramble rely on the clichés, and instead of perverting or parodying them, they reminded audiences why those tropes were used so often that they became clichés. Warren and Dubin’s score pull some of the best songs of the ’30s: “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle off to Buffalo,” “We’re in the Money,” “Young and Healthy,” the list of toe-tapping hits goes on and on for two and a half hours.
   Directed by co-author Bramble, the 2017 London revival, which opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, features a tribute to Gower Champion’s Tony-winning dance moves by Randy Skinner (Champion’s dance assistant in the original production). Skinner captures Champion’s vigorous combinations, so that every major number becomes a showstopper. Langford is elegant as Brock. A West End legend (she originated Rumpleteazer in the London version of Cats), Langford manages to make Brock irascible but sympathetic. Her voice is in its prime. Lister is commanding and sexy as the director whose career and finances are on the line. Bertioli has a gorgeous voice and taps like a dream. Halse takes the myth of the newcomer metamorphosing into a star and personifies its inevitability. The young performer transforms into a juggernaut herself by playing Peggy. Her dancing, vocal prowess, and ingratiating characterization of the innocent ingénue is the best thing in an already exemplary production.
   The BroadwayHD crew does a stellar job of showcasing the production. The filming’s direction, by Ross Macgibbon, focuses on the dancing, swiftly cutting among full body shots, tapping feet, and expressive faces. The camera sweeps the stage with mechanics and Steadicams so that the epic scale of the dancing configurations can be translated to film. Low angle shots and rapid editing give the production a dynamic rhythm, so that it never seems merely a video capture of a stage production.

Almost mirroring his illustrious original director Champion, Bramble died in February—a few weeks after his production left Drury Lane. This, his final production, is a winning testament to the staying power of the show he helped create with producer David Merrick, co-author Michael Stewart, and the genius director Champion. The lights of 42nd Street hopefully will never dim.
May 7, 2019

Starting May 15th, this filmed production of 42nd Street will begin streaming on for all subscribers to enjoy.
Website Builder