REVIEW – 42nd Street, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday

42ND STREET ... the show is glitzy, glamorous and packed with dance numbers.
42ND STREET ... the show is glitzy, glamorous and packed with dance numbers.
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NEW York’s 42nd Street, aka Broadway, aka the Great White Way – it’s where theatre dreams are made and broken.

It’s depression-hit America in 1933 and female hoofers queue up.

For most, a job in the chorus line of a musical is better than joining the unemployment queue, but for some wannabes, there is that hope of rising to the very top.

One of them is out-of-towner Peggy Sawyer (Jessica Punch), a shy tap dancer and singer of discernable talent looking for her big break. Her world collides with theatrical impresario Julian Marsh (Dave Willetts), who is casting for his latest blockbuster musical.

Marsh has, however, made a Faustian pact: in return for money borrowed from kiddie-car tycoon Abner Dillon (Bruce Montague) to stage the show, our impresario has promised to cast Dillon’s ageing squeeze, the prima-donna-ish Donna Brock (Marti Webb) in the starring role.

This is an A list of West End stars and the standard of performances throughout matches the hype. Webb, Willetts and Punch, in particular, are excellent.

However, the production values leave a lot to be desired. The shimmering painted backdrops and the wobbly reflective “mirror” when the dancers did their synchronised dancing looked tacky. It could have been the top end of an amateur production rather than a number one show.

Mark Bramble, who produces this production and co-wrote the book, also directed, but it’s rather static and there is little or no drama or characterisation as we encounter a cliched narrative, especially when Webb’s character breaks her ankle and Peggy Sawyer has to step in, rehearsing and perfecting the complex steps and numbers overnight!

While the big show-stopping numbers like Lullaby of Broadway, We’re In The Money and 42nd Street, are stunning with spectacular dancing, sparkly costumes and the hypnotic sound of up to 25 tap dancers doing their wonderful thing, my eyes kept getting drawn to missing lightbulbs and changing backdrops.

Overall this is a pleasant enough experience but, paying top dollar, I’d expect more bangs for my bucks.

Ed Waugh