Warren and Rubin, the music and lyrics guys behind 42nd Street, should be as well known as Rodgers and Hart. Or Hammerstein. For their show, initially a 1933 movie starring Ginger Rogers, is nothing short of musical genius. It was said a popular song had worked if you heard people in the street singing it. Well, you come away from the Curve production of the 1980s version playing at the Grand Opera House hymning the New York street that’s naughty, bawdy, sporty but alive.
This production makes slick a big compliment. The tap dancing is electrifying from the off as we see a chorus line practising moves while they contemplate their fate, the dole or a part in a show. There is a nod to the Depression but this is really high class escapism about dream fulfilment. It’s a version of Star is Born and Samantha Womack as maturing crowd puller Dorothy Brock and Nicole-Lily Baisden as emerging star Peggy Sawyer both do their roles justice. It is in fact an uplifting couple of hours which passes more quickly because of the quality of singing, dancing and music from the pit orchestra.
As with all good touring productions, the producers threw some great TV names into the ring. Les Dennis played himself with an American accent as Mr Barry the author of the show within the show, Pretty Girl, which was fun
Michael Praed as Julian Marsh, the suave yet ruthless manager was a bit of a revelation. We should have known the guy who embodied a romantic soft focus Robin Hood in the 80s would have had a significant career, in fact in musicals where his singing, dancing and acting ability clearly add class. Samantha Womack brought hauteur and glamour to the role of the older star turn. She sang well, acted not being able to dance also well. Oliver Farnworth played the minor role of her beau, Pat Denning, convincingly.
But it’s the foot tapping, feelgood music that takes centre stage. We’re in the Money, You’re Getting to be a Habit with me (touchingly from Dorothy), and the eponymous, catch song that top and tails the evening. There is underneath the sugar, the trademark American sassy cynicism. Take Keep Young and Beautiful (if you want to be loved) and Dames. In the latter number, there’s a droll reference to the anonymity of the authors. “Who cares who writes the words and music/For the girly shows? No one cares and no one knows…” as long as there are dames, and there are plenty, all doing their Cecil B de Mille thing.
We gain not one but two happy endings…our star is indeed launched and Peggy was luminous as she rose to the challenge, her smile and leg kicks sizable as her ambition. But modest to the end, this Allantown girl, touchingly telling Mr Marsh it was his influence that had helped her shine in his show. And Dorothy discovered that what she wanted was her man, not the endless demands of fame and questioning of her ability to do dance routines.
It’s touching, moving at times, schmaltzy at others, everything a Broadway show ought to be.
Jane Hardy42nd Street runs at The Grand Opera House until Saturday, October 28 (goh.co.uk)