As musical director Jae Alexander strikes up his fabulous 18 piece band and begins to rise from the orchestra pit before turning to the audience with a cheesy grin and a wink you know that this is going to be a full throttle crowd pleaser that packs no punches. In traditional 42nd Street style the curtain raises a few feet to reveal all those dancing feet, and my so many dancing feet there are.
The latest addition to the West End from the relatively newly formed GradeLinnit partnership is unashamedly brash, brassy and totally Broadway! With a cast of 50 on one of the West Ends largest stages in the venue that played host to the original London production this is something very special indeed.
Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s show about Broadway hoofers seamlessly slipped into musical theatre legend with a feel of the great MGM classics of the forties and fifties. It is in fact but a mere youngster however having only opened in 1980 on Broadway before its London transfer to Drury Lane in 1984. It was in this production that a young chorus girl by the name of Catherine Zeta Jones was thrust into the limelight when in a life imitating art moment she had to step in for the lead at short notice. She seemed to do alright after that!
The story sees Broadway old timer Dorothy Brock starring in a new show that is designed to save the career of celebrated director and hard task master Julian Marsh. Chorus girl Peggy Sawyer has to step in to save the day when Dorothy can’t go on and becomes an instant star. With such a basic plotline there is no real attempt to explore the narrative too much in Mark Brambles production. The two dimensional approach to characterisation and the shallowness of emotion however are forgiven in a show that is first and foremost about spectacle.
Sheena Easton cuts a fine figure as Brock with a belting voice and a great presence on stage. Tom Lister is suitable gruff as Marsh with fine and energetic comedy work from Jasna Ivir as Maggie and Christopher Howell as Bert. Claire Hulse as Peggy is a proper firecracker and sings her heart out and dances with lightning speed and finesse.
There is a very traditional approach to the design work with painted backdrops stubbornly resisting the onslaught of projection and automation that is the norm now in so many productions. A giant staircase that appears from nowhere certainly offers the jaw drop moment that still seems to be a pre-requisite.
Where there is certainly no scrimping however is in Roger kirk’s lavish costume designs with a mightily impressive array that seems to never end. It seems right though that it is the wonderful ensemble that are the focus of this production. Their exquisite and finely tuned tap numbers leave you breathless. Never have I seen such a uniformly terrific and perfectly synchronised chorus of tap dancing delights.
Whilst there may be nothing particularly subtle about this monster show there is plenty for the eyes to feast on that make it a complete pleasure to watch and will make you want to grab your tap shoes and go and meet those dancing feet!