“Come and meet those dancing feet, down Cardiff Bay I’m taking you to…” Yep, the all-tapdancing Broadway musical 42nd Street has just stopped in at the Wales Millennium Centre. Based on the 1933 film of the same name, the musical version premiered in 1980, yet feels more classically Broadway than that era might suggest.
“Get out your tap shoes, Julian Marsh is doing a show!” Set backstage on Broadway during the Great Depression, smalltown girl Peggy Sawyer is dreaming of her name in lights as she auditions for Marsh’s new show, to the consternation of aging star Dorothy Brock. As one of the songs says, “Who cares if there’s a plot or not?”, and the plot in 42nd Street is wafer-thin. Sure, a lot of it comprises a series of musical/dance numbers, the show within the show – but it’s all about the dancing, jazz hands and Broadway of it all.
And the dancing is so impressive, tapdancing in particular, how the performers are able to sing after all that is unfathomable. On Tuesday night, Rhianna Dorris made for a real-life Sawyer as a member of the ensemble, brilliantly playing that lead role. Away from the tapdancing ensemble are the better-known names of the cast: in truth, I felt a bit cheated through the absence of performers from the pre-tour London cast, the likes of Ruthie Henshall and Adam Garcia, but the touring cast dissolved such feelings.
Given Samantha Womack’s history of icy roles on TV, I wondered if she’d be right for the part; Womack, though, has made a name for herself in musicals too, and here plays an ‘aging’ diva with more than one dimension. Les Dennis is always a reliable name in musical comedy, his presence onstage always welcome, and his opposite comedy number, Faye Tozer of Steps, impressed me immensely. As brassy, redheaded Broadway broad Maggie Jones, Tozer is barely recognisable: I didn’t even realise it was her until the interval, but watching with greater intent in the second half her brilliant New York accent – one of the reasons I didn’t recognise her – and comedy acting chops saw her hold her own with Dennis.
The sets are lovely, the costumes gorgeous and the Broadway of the 1930s – an idealised version, at least – is effectively evoked. 42nd Street is hardly the Ziegfeld Follies, being a touring show without an extensive cast, but it’s one of the best touring productions I’ve seen.
42nd Street, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Tue 15 Aug
On until Sat 19 Aug. Tickets: £15-£68. Info: here
words CHRIS WILLIAMS