42nd Street – The Musical | Review
Grand Opera House, Belfast • Tuesday 10 April ’18
By Conor O’Neill
New York City accents aplenty, the thrill of the dance, where each step is just one step away from ‘musical comedy’ greatness, the widely and critically acclaimed St Agnes’ Choral Society once again brings its own tap and stomp to the lovely lady that is the Grand Opera House.
Looking around me, with tickets in hand, I ask for the numbers, ‘800’. That’s some going and it’s the same from tonight to Saturday… and to think those on stage are amateurs! Even professional companies struggle with all their might and hype to near fill the GOH on opening night without a review posted or a song and dance made by the media.
Let’s run through a few of the main cast: a backing dancer, a clinical technician, trad’ music star, primary school principal, pharmaceutical analysis masters student, a nursery teacher, another primary school head, a Redemptorist priest? No. I am not shaking your proverbial. Apart from all of the above being fulltime jobs and vocations, the main actors and the 40-plus chorus on stage, there are also 13 musicians in the pit led by musical director, Wilson Shields, making a great job of a great show.
If, like me, you’re treading new ground on 42nd Street, here’s a little history. 1933, Wall Street has crashed. Theatre impresario Julian Marsh (John Lindop) has lost the lot on his stocks and bonds. While others are chucking themselves out of windows, he’s busy throwing himself into a new musical. Aided and abetted by the frightening yet equally nurturing Mrs. Jones (Fiona Keegan) and the kindly Burt Barry (Peter Burke) he hopes to recover his money and respect; it’s been years from his last hit. Throw in another name slowly making its way to the footnotes of ‘musical comedy’ history AKA Dorothy Brock (Michelle Hannaway) and on paper, we have a sad lot hoping for a quick, money making, final bow before the curtain drops.
But, you’ve yet to meet the kids. The ones with hope in their eyes and with a tap on their feet; Youth and blind optimism run hand-in-hand. Apart from the seasoned chorus yelling “We’ve gotta job” like Hillbillies striking black gold on deserted land, we have the outta-towner, the misfit that is Peggy Sawyer (Lorraine Jackson Brown) from Allenstown, Pennsylvania. With 40 US cents to her name and no way back to the back of beyond, she’s a minute too late for registering as a chorus girl. Thankfully, the admiration/lust of leading man Billy Lawlor’s (Gareth McGreevy) advances help our heart broken heroin on her way. By chance, a forgotten purse and an address save the day, night, show, a hundred jobs and much, much more.
There’re so many dirty little secrets going on here you’ll think you’re having a nightmare with Jeremy Kyle on repeat. Funding the whole thing is ten-gallon-hat-wearing Texan, car salesman, Abner Dillon (J M McGuigan) who has Dorothy in his pocket but far from his heart. Throw in a dirty doctor (Stephen McQuillan), a couple of mob guys on the orders of Mac (Adrian Egan), and you’re in for a night of high drama, kicks and taps that’ll leave you counting your teeth and songs that’ll melt your heart and then bring it back to life like a defibrillator with 15 extra Duracell.
Choreographer, Ann Marie Morgan, to quote Mrs. Jones, has told all on stage to: “Pick ‘em up and put ‘em down, they’re paying four dollars out there.” From my awkward position: my luck, I was sitting behind a Rugby scrum-half, I only noticed only one or two slight errors, the rest was pure gravy. Remember, all on stage have other things to do eight hours of the day. Wonderful job.
As for the tunes, well, you’ll be hard pushed to find fault. Young and Healthy with its lively tap and bounce sets the tone for the night. Go into Your Dance reaffirms it. Dames ups it a notch before the money shot of You’re in the Money has a smile on everyone’s face, all big numbers without a doubt, but the tenderness of I Know Now hints at another side to both the original musical and the quality of vocal performances on show here. A sultry Dorothy and the crooner in Billy bring a tear to many an eye as we move toward the interval.
The second half has a more lamenting feel, and according to the unseen girl behind me on the way out, sniffling into a tissue has the crux of this production in its hands. All 1600 ears prick as Lullaby of Broadway reveals this is not all about high kicks, neon lights, jazz hands or a story within a story, but one of a fatigued, cynical and aging theatre director’s redemption and the joy of a girl from Allenstown, Pennsylvania, without knowing, making it happen. And shock upon shock, Dorothy proves she’s more than just a gold digging, theatre diva by losing the Texan and… not only do we run the gauntlet emotionally, but physically, geographically, we’re all over the place in the best possible sense. Costume changes set changes, we move from audition room to restaurants, rehearsal room, Dorothy’s dressing room complete with bulbs around the mirror and chaise longue. From New York to Atlantic City, onto the fear and threat of Philadelphia: I lost count of the changes in tempo, both of the music and of the mood. This truly is spell bounding.
Director, Laura Kerr, Wilson Shields, cast, crew and all involved deserved the standing ovation that lasted close to seven minutes. The audience contains many return devotees and in the program notes President of 18 years, 80-year-old Kevin Kavanagh thanks us for coming and all members involved. Some have been members for years, decades even, others, like 16-year-old Adam Vaughan are just starting out. Special kudos for two of my favourite characters and actors, namely Anytime Annie (Aideen Fox) who’s snarl and grit gives the show a bit more bite and stage manager Andy (Timmy Bell) whose dancing feet and humanity truly embody all on show here.
If you want to take a walk down Forty-Second Street, and remember, there are over 200 seats per performance still to be grabbed for the evening shows, and matinees Thursday and Saturday, phone the box office on 02890 214919 or visit www.goh.co.uk 42nd Street runs until Saturday 14 April ’18.