42nd Street

It might be a simple tale of theatre folk, but this ensemble of high-kicking hoofers delivers pure, joyful escapism

You know how it is: you wait ages and then two cracking musicals come along almost at once. I bow to no one in my admiration for, nay adoration of, An American in Paris, newly installed at the Dominion Theatre and resident there, well, for as long as it wants.

Now hot on its heels comes this smokin’ revival of the 1933 Warner Bros film original, 42nd Street, back at the very theatre where it enjoyed a long run in the 1980s. And it is, Richard-Barber-colour-176frankly, beside the point to compare the two. The former isn’t ‘better’ than the latter any more than oranges are ‘better’ than apples. They’re just different and in their differing ways equally as enjoyable.

The story is simplicity itself. Imperious leading lady breaks her ankle in rehearsal and wide-eyed ingénue steps up from the chorus to triumphantly save the show, pretty lady, from closure in Philadelphia and turn it into a Broadway sensation. But the story is secondary. The dancing’s the thing. And, if An American in Paris is all about the beauty of ballet, 42nd Street turns on the tap – and how!

Famously, the curtain rises at the start of proceedings just high enough to glimpse pair upon pair of dancing feet. And they don’t let up for the next two hours and more. Director Mark Gamble has an ensemble of 43 high-kicking hoofers (austerity? What austerity?) who tap dance across the stage and up and down illuminated staircases until the very fillings rattle in your teeth.

This is pure unalloyed escapism, so check any political correctness into the cloakroom with your coat and come on and listen to lullaby of Broadway or happily shuffle off to Buffalo. Simply enjoy Harry Warren’s wider songbook, raided for the purposes of this production, and don’t listen too closely to Al Dubin’s lyrics. ‘What’s cute about a little cutie is her beauty, not her brains,’ runs one line that would result in Dubin getting his thumbs broken behind the bike shed were it written today.

Eighties song thrush Sheena Easton (glorious voice, adequate acting) is the disagreeable leading lady Dorothy Brock. Clare Halse (dazzling dancer, perky actor, so-so singer) is chorine Peggy Sawyer. Emmerdale’s Tom Lister is imperiously unbending producer Julian Marsh – and he can sing, too.

The best comedy of this high-octane evening comes from Christopher Howell and especially Jasna Ivir, as Bert and Maggie, pretty lady’s resident writers. But, for all that, it’s the dancing that will have you tap-tap-tapping all the way home.

Until 14 October, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Catherine Street, WC2: 0844-412 2955; www.42ndstreetmusical.co.uk