Timeless, famed, genre-defining: all befitting words to describe this classic backstage musical considering its screen debut ninety years ago, later followed by an 80s stage adaptation.
Arriving in New York City, wide-eyed, budding performer Peggy (Nicole-Lily Baisden) has her heart set on stage stardom- and the right set of circumstances soon land her a spot in a new musical’s chorus line. As opening night approaches, an accident involving the leading lady then gives Peggy the unexpected chance to make it big.
A paper-thin storyline matters little when outstanding tap numbers are in such plentiful supply. Exuberant and unremitting, the ensemble commands attention with their well-honed coordination. Dance sequences in We’re in the Money as well as the titular song make them unforgettable highlights; George Beet, Ashleigh Graham and Ben Middleton are to name but a few of the charismatic members.
Going from one toe-tapping production to another, Baisden – last seen in the Barbican’s Anything Goes – imbues the role of Peggy with high hopes, high spirits and high kicks. Samantha Womack gives a (literal) showstopping performance as Dorothy, the bitter prima donna long accustomed to getting her own way. Where seasoned star meets promising starlet, they both hold the stage in a melodious duet of About a Quarter to Nine.
The compelling voice of Sam Lips makes Pretty Girl tenor Billy Lawlor a stand-out. Panto-esque follies from Les Dennis do little to distract from an otherwise high-quality show.
Touches of meta humour that come with “musical-within-a-musical” pieces are amusing and well-delivered, facilitated by a practical backstage set. Robert Jones’ design also incorporates immersive digital backgrounds of 1930s Broadway. As the creative behind the costumes, too, Jones has ensured that they are all as time appropriate as they are fabulous.
Whether it’s your first or forty-second time, this accomplished production of 42nd Street is the dictionary definition of ‘all-singing, all-dancing’. In a word? Spec-tap-ular.
42nd Street continues at the Opera House in Manchester until 21st October with tickets available from https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/42nd-street/opera-house-manchester/
Reviewer: Scot Cunningham
Reviewed: 16th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: