42nd Street. Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble . Lyrics by Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer . Music by Harry Warren. Directed by Chris Baldock. Associate director Cate Clelland. Choreographer Michelle Heine. Musical direction Nicholas Griffin. Conductor Ian McLean. Free-Rain Theatre Company. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. Until April 15. Bookings: theq.net.au
Reviewed by: Peter Wilkins.
Free Rain's production of 42nd Street at The Q is the quintessential feel-good Broadway musical comedy. David Merrick's 1980 stage adaptation of the 1933 Warner Bros. film brilliantly revived the nostalgia, charm and optimism of a musical, designed to dispel the lingering gloom of the Great Depression and lighten the heart with the sunny side of every situation. Like a seductive siren on every street corner of New York, Chris Baldock's heartfelt homage to the city of musical comedy entices his audience to come along and listen to the Lullaby of Broadway. It is an irresistible lure, assisted by musical director Nicholas Griffin, choreographer Michelle Heine and a 1930s style brassy, classy orchestra under the magical baton of conductor Ian McLean. From the orchestra's spirited overture and the company's stunning opening tap routine to Jarrad West's closing reprise of Lullaby of Broadway, Free Rain's 42nd Street sweeps you along on a wave of sheer enjoyment.
It is the songs and routines in this production that make your spirits soar, carrying you away from all care, seduced by costumes designed and created by Fiona Leach and her wardrobe team. And the production's exceptionally talented cast give it all they've got, effusing a contagious sense of fun and firing with dazzling enthusiasm and energy.
The plot is simple enough. Naive wannabe actress, Peggy Sawyer (Sophie Highmore), arrives in New York to find fame and fortune. Watch out for Highmore in future. With the grace of Cyd Charisse, the innocence of Leslie Caron and the ebullience of Debbie Reynolds, Highmore is destined for a bright future. She is in excellent company with stand-out professional Sam Ward as Peggy's admiring male lead, Billy Lawlor, Jarrad West as Julian Marsh, the fraught producer of Pretty Lady, his make-or-break Broadway musical, and the wonderfully talented Louiza Blomfield as the diva, Dorothy Brock, who breaks her ankle, creating an opportunity for newcomer Peggy to take on the star role.
In a company where every member gives their all, it is worth mentioning Debra Byrne as a very funny Maggie Jones, Lachlan Agett as dance master Andy Lee, David Cannell as Bert Barry and Karina Hudson as Ann Reilly.
Every aspect of this production pays joyful homage to the original musicals of the era. Set designers Martin Searles and Steve and Susie Walsh use projections to indicate place and period and the 15 members of the orchestra recreate a sense of the big bands of America in the '30s. It all adds to the nostalgia and the charm of a show in the old Broadway tradition that will have you tapping your feet, humming along and forgetting your troubles as you hear the beat of dancing feet at 42nd Street.