Music by Harry Warren Lyrics by Al Dubin
Book by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble.
Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate Village, London N6 4BD to 26 January 2020.
Tues- Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sun 4pm. Check for extra 3pm matinees over the holiday fortnight.
Runs 2hr 20 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 040 8340 3488
Review: William Russell 17 December.
Possibly the best dressed show on the fringe as well as the one with the most tap dancing this sparkling production directed by John Plews may have a smaller cast and sets than the various Drury Lane productions but the dancing is every bit as good and the sequins and ostrich feathers are there in abundance. if Kate Anne Fenton lacks the gamine charm of Ruby Keeler, who created the role of Peggy Sawyer, the girl who would become a Broadway star, in the 1933 film on which this is based, she is a far better tap dancer, singer and actress. She dazzles. But she is not alone. Plews has fielded a strong cast led by Alex Wadham as Julian Marsh, the tyrannical and legendary Broadway director who is putting on a new musical called Pretty Girl starring a slightly over the hill star called Dorothy Brock. She has a sugar daddy in tow who is financing it. Wadham is suitably tyrannical and rises to the final number when he at last gets to sing proving he can do what he asks of his casts, while Tamsen Dowsett manages to make the rather badly written role of Brock worth watching. The problem with this musical is that Dorothy is depicted as rather nasty, and the final volte face – her ankle broken, out of the show and reunited with her old love – when she goes to wish substitute Peggy good luck is hard to take. This being a musical, while she has to perform the rehearsal numbers badly for plot reasons, she also gets songs to sing as her character which Ms Dowsett sings rather well. The trouble is because she is playing someone unsympathetic they do not work quite as they should and, when all is said and done, Brock is actually the leading role. But quibbling about a cast iron hit with a past like this one is a bit pointless, the show is what it is and was and remains a hit. Bebe Daniels did not play someone so unsympathetic in the film which lent the role some pathos to the scene when as a star on the way down she does the decent thing by the one who will take her place.
The Warren Dubin songs, plus the dancing of course, are what make the show. The film only had five numbers, but a whole pile of their songs from other thirties films like Dame, and Gold Diggers of 1933 and 1935 have been added – sometimes they fit, sometimes the shoe horning shows – but they are all vintage show tunes and get danced to the hilt.
The story line is slight. Peggy, an innocent from the boondocks, turns up to audition for the new Marsh show, is taken under the wing of the juvenile lead, Billy Lawler, played by Rory Shafford, and the chorus girls including Any Time Annie, so called for obvious reasons, played by Samantha Noel. Shafford has a nice tenor voice, a cheeky personality and reaches his high notes with aplomb while Noel oozes the necessary availability as Annie. Peggy gets the sack, is reinstated and on opening night of the tryout in Philadelphia she bumps into Brock who breaks an ankle. But the show must go on and, there being no understudy for reasons that are not quite clear, who gets the job but Peggy, after being stopped at the railway station leading to Marsh uttering the immortal words – “Sawyer, you’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got tocome back a star!”
The production suffered a little from the sound which, on the night I saw it, was frankly too loud, especially for the dialogue which at times seemed to be shouted. This did blunt some of the jokes but different night, different audience so who knows? Maybe the cast need the throat mikes to top the backing by the first rate band, but dialogue should not require quite the same volume. Forty Second Street is not is not a great original musical, but it is the greatest of the so called juke box back catalogue shows constructed on the legend of the film, one of the stream of depression musical films that cheered people up. What producer David Merrick did was create a gilt edged audience pleaser. The stage could never quite aspire to the glories Busby Berkeley put on screen – even in Drury Lane with a huge cast and lots of money some of the production numbers did look a little under powered compared with the screen originals. On the fringe with a thirteen strong cast, one would think they could not work at all. But they look breathtaking and the ostrich feathers, sequins and silk clad legs, not to mention dishy chorus boys, are there in abundance. The Plews’ Christmas musical at the Gatehouse – Katie Plews is the producer – is usually pretty good and this one is up there with the very best.
Julian Marsh: Alex Wadham.
Maggie Jones: Charlie Burt.
Pat Denning/Willard: Christopher Foley.
Abner Dillon/Frankie: Christopher Hewitt.
Andy Lee: Ethan Tanner.
Phyllis Dale: Helen Rose.
Lorraine Flemming: Jessica Wright.
Oscar (on stage piano): Josef Pitura-Riley.
Peggy Sawyer: Kate-Ann Fenton.
Billy Lawler: Rory Shafford,
Ann Reilly: Samantha Noel.
Dorothy Brock: Tamsin Dowsett.
Bert Barry: Tom Lowe.
Director: John Plews.
Choreography: Simon Adkins.
Musical Director: John Reddel.
Designer: Emily Bestow.
Production Photographs: Darren Bell.