42nd Street at Theatre Royal
This must be the absolute classic back-stage/on stage/ all-singing/all-dancing musical comedy extravaganza, often imitated but never surpassed, with wall to wall tap dancing feet, a retro Art Deco set that extends even to the proscenium arch and plenty of those snappy one-liners that added a sharp edge to 1930s escapism. It’s based on the 1933 movie of the same name, where dance director Busby Berkeley’s camp, over-the-top routines brought a touch of glitz to Depression era America and started a trend for films about putting on ridiculously extravagant stage musicals (which even here. alas, can’t quite be equalled in a real live performance.) Nothing daunted, however, this theatrical adaptation, riding a wave of nostalgia and judiciously adding a few extra songs from other films in the series, opened in 1980 and will probably go on touring forever. The plot is paper-thin – naïve but happily zippy and tappy ingenue (played with wide-eyed energy by Nicole-Lily Baisden) misses auditions for the new Broadway musical “Pretty Lady” but attracts the attention of its juvenile lead tenor (and they’re both such darned sweet, perky kids that I needn’t tell you where this plot thread leads.) Leading lady Dorothy Brock (Samantha Womack) is demanding, past her prime and can’t dance, but her rich admirer is backing the show. Of course she injures her ankle so really can’t dance (even less so than was already the case) and you’ll just have to guess who’s waiting in the wings to fill the role… Nice comedy turn from Faye Tozer and Les Dennis as the show’s composers, wonderful tightly paced ensemble work from an impossibly energetic company (especially Sarah-Marie Maxwell as Anytime Annie, who really did look as though she could have stepped out of the original film.) With soupy songs plus some really sharp funny ones (how can you not warm to a number called “Shuffle off to Buffalo”?), silly costumes and more tippy tappy toes than I’d care to count, “42nd Street” left me smiling inanely while feeling strangely exhausted.