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Review: 42nd Street at The Opera House is ‘spectacular, glamorous and glitzy’

Step back in time to the glitz and glamour of old Broadway with "42nd Street" at Manchester's Opera House, where dazzling performances and stunning costumes take centre stage.

The fabulous all-singing and all-dancing 42nd Street has tapped and stepped to the beat of Manchester streets and is now currently residing in the Opera House with performances until Saturday 21st October.

42nd Street

Based on the original novel Bradford Ropes, and inspired by the film adaptation, 42nd Street (dir. Lloyd Bacon), Jonathan Church and Bill Deamer respect the original direction of Gower Champion and David Merrick in this new production of the renowned romance comedy musical.

Though the production is new, it honours its predecessors and doesn’t try to ‘reinvent the wheel’ as it were with modernising it too much.

Music by Harry Warren and Al Dubin

Original music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Al Dubin will have you dancing along in your chair and Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book will have you invested in these characters for the full two and a half hours.

It’s New York, 1933. The Great Depression meant low demand and high unemployment.

Yet, there is light shining through these dark times as legendary director, Julian Marsh, is putting on a show!

The opportunity to work not only for a paycheque in these trying times, but to work under Marsh is a dream long awaited for many young talents in the city, especially Peggy Sawyer, who is new to town, armed with nothing but enthusiasm, tap shoes, and a vision of seeing her name in lights one day.

The Heart and Spirit of Broadway

The heart and spirit of Broadway are romanticised in 42nd Street, bringing to life a narrative of a young chorus girl who gets not only the shot of a life time – but an opportunity that only comes about one in every hundred lifetimes – to be the leading lady of a brand-new Broadway play, Pretty Lady.

The star of the shows, both 42nd Street and the show within it, Pretty Lady, is Nicole-Lily Baisden as Peggy Sawyer.

Who else? She is fantastic, drawing the audience in so that we are rooting for her from the very beginning, and our faith in her isn’t misplaced because Baisden as Sawyer absolutely smashes the iconic, titular finale.

This is no surprise of course, because we see Baisden’s talent from the very beginning of the performance, but her skilled craft delivers an honest depiction of a very gifted performer new to the business.

“An Incredible cast and production”

There are some exciting cast members within this production of 42nd Street.

Firstly, we have Samantha Womack as the experienced star, Dorothy Brock, who is supposed to generate the star power Pretty Lady needs for a successful run on a Broadway stage.

Brock has over a decade of experience and the voice of an angel, but two left feet.

Womack is great in the role, playing the superior star while providing comedy with her apathetic attempt at dancing.

Michael Praed plays Julian Marsh, the renowned director that everyone in the business is desperate to work with.

Praed shows a lot of heart as Marsh, and is not really as harsh or demanding as we expect him to be (only when it counts!), but is just as compassionate and kind as we hope he is.

Faye Tozer and Les Dennis portray Maggie Jones and Bert Barry, respectively, who are the producers of Pretty Lady and cast themselves within it as the comedy duo.

Tozer is fabulous, and playing Jones allows her to show off her vocal and comedic range, while Dennis is purely there for comedic effect – which he delivers brilliantly.

As ever, a musical such as 42nd Street, it would be nothing without its ensemble.

The entire cast is fantastic. The elaborate and intensive tap numbers are incredible, with the cast making the routines look effortless, keeping the lines sharp, and no one misses a beat.

As the overture strikes up and the curtain rises, a fast-paced black-and-white montage of 1930s New York and its people are projected onto stage, really setting the scene and taking us back in time to old-timey Broadway.

The set itself is plain, with a dusty black background, which lends itself nicely to making the cast on stage stand out in their bright and sparkly costumes – and the costumes are everything you want them to be.

They are big, bold, and bedazzling, perfectly complementing the dance routines.

The costumes are what make the show magic; emphasising the enchantment of the business and justifying why the cast and crew of Pretty Lady work so hard to make the show happen.

Robert Jones’ Incredible Job

Robert Jones has done an incredible job with the set and costume designs. Further to the set, when Pretty Lady is being performed, another ‘theatre’ is created on stage with the use of a proscenium that draws down, creating a stage within the stage of the Opera House.

This is a really nice touch, and positions us the audience of 42nd Street as the audience of Pretty Lady, too. Making it a double bill for us!

Overall, 42nd Street is a brilliant show, and a great option if you’re looking for some entertainment this week in Manchester.

You could say the plot is perhaps predictable, without too many surprises, but does this matter?

It’s a show about show business and it does this very well.

The glitz and glamour do not overshadow the story of the effort and dedication that the ‘lucky ones’ in the cast exert, which is true and important for everyone to understand about those who work in the industry, plus the performances and costumes are spectacular.

 42nd Street is an iconic piece of theatre in the world of musical theatre and one that is on a lot of bucket lists I’m sure.

Tickets for this dazzling show start at just £13 and are available to purchase here.

Accessible performances are taking place on the evenings of Tuesday 17th with Audio Description available, and Wednesday 18th is a BSL Interpreted performance.

The show lasts approximately 2 hours and 35 minutes, including a 20-minute interval.

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