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42nd Street

Paul Nicholas, Julia J Nagle, Bruce Montague, Jessica Punch
Ashley Nottingham, Shirley Jameson, Graham Hoadly, Nicholas Charters
Director: Mark Bramble
Producers: Peter Frosdick & Martin Dodd

Liverpool Empire Theatre
Tuesday March 27th, 2007

Jerry Springer - The Opera 2006: promotional image


As far as Musical Theatre goes, 42nd Street is regarded as something of a phenomenon, coming to life on screen in the Busby Berkley choreographed 1933 movie version as it did with such success, in a time in which it was thought the musical was dead.

This was the nineteen-thirties. Money was a hard commodity to come by and audiences were growing more particular about what they were paying their hard earned to see. After all, in 1933, audiences had dropped by some 60% in five years.

So what is the allure of this show and how have they transferred from screen to stage in this production? The answers to both questions are same. The dancing is exceptional.
The story revolves around the back stage rehearsals of Pretty Lady, a new show being set up at the famous 42nd Street Theater in New York, by legendary producer, Julian Marsh (Nicholas). After an accident, the show’s star, Dorothy Brock (Nagle), is forced out of the show and so sees Peggy Sawyer (Punch) plucked from the chorus line to save the day and so signal hope to those festering on the scrap heap of Depression hit America.
From the opening Audition scene to the closing of the successful Pretty Lady, the dancing and movement of the ensemble is magnificent. Carried by tunes such as We’re In The Money, You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me and I Only Have Eyes For You.

However, the singing is where the show fell down a little. The sound coming from the stage was weak, to say the least, which meant that a lot of the dialogue and vocals were lost and only some coped.

Paul Nicholas is a true presence on stage but, with exception of his renditions of Lullaby Of Broadway and 42nd Street at the finale, much of his presence appeared subdued and almost tired. Indeed, the only other singing of real note came from Shirley Jameson. Playing stage “widow” Maggie Jones with such gusto, it would be easy to see her in the role of chorus “Mother” for real.

This is not to say that the other performances weren’t good – especially that of Jessica Punch playing the role of Peggy Sawyer – they just didn’t stir the emotion that a production of this calibre should have done.

In homage to Berkley, no doubt, at one point a mirror is lowered at the back of the stage so that dancers could imitate one of the choreographer’s famed synchronised swimming effects. It didn’t work. Why? The glass was covered in fingerprints and remained on stage well after the number had finished.

In addition, what happened to the staircase set? A true motif of any Busby Berkley show, surely, is a grand staircase?

One effect that did work remarkably well, though, was the shadow dancing sequence of Nagle, as the Diva , Dorothy Brock, and of Billy Lawlor played by Ashley Nottingham. Indeed, with the exception of Jessica Punch, Nagle steals the show in many respects, filling the role of spoiled star and misunderstood lovelorn woman with great style.

The dance numbers are the mark of the shows popularity, however. Keep Young And Beautiful, Dames, With Plenty Of Money And You and of course 42nd Street and Lullaby Of Broadway, ensured that the cast received a generous response from an audience who, no doubt, tried to imitate the steps on their way home through the misty night, safe in the knowledge of their not being a staircase in sight.


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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
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