This 1980 musical, based on the 1933 film of the same name, is known to be difficult to stage because of the casting of the lead characters, and especially because of the amount of tap dancing needed to bring Harold Arlen’s sparkling score to life.
Quarry Bank Musical Theatre Society tackled this show with confidence from the opening curtain, rising as it does to show 13 pairs of chorine legs mid-rehearsal for the show-within-a-show Pretty Lady.
From the off Zoe Russell’s choreography paid homage to the Golden Age of both Broadway and Hollywood, with large vibrant chorus lines and also dancing patterns that made me wish there was some way to see the Busby Berkley inspired shapes from above.
The four leads are very well cast. Dominating the first half of the show – quite rightly – is the magnificent Natalie Baggott as the quite frankly monstrous Broadway diva Dorothy Brock. She possess a wonderfully engaging stage personality and a remarkable voice, full of warmth and humour. Alongside her Fleur Petford shines as young Peggy Sawyer who, at the start of the show is just desperate to obtain her first job, but grows, following an accident to the star, Brock, to assume the leading role in the show. It is a transition that Petford handles very successfully, shy and engaging at the start, and fully leading the show by the end.
As the show’s director Julian Marsh, Carl Cook is both the hard-nosed business man, but also very warm and human, and Richard Cope, as leading man Billy Lawler, demonstrates both good tapping skills and also full throated top notes reminiscent of old style leading men like Gordon MacRae and John Raitt.
Excellent comic support comes from Gillian Horner, Adrian Raybould and a raft of well-drawn supporting characters. The excellent music comes from a well-balanced 14 piece band under the expert direction of MD Richard Ganner.
One slight caveat; during the climactic 42nd Street number there is a very sudden dramatic event (no spoilers here!). However there was no narrative in the dance to lead up to and explain this event. The music certainly reminded me of the Girl Hunt ballet from The Band Wagon, and some of that storytelling would have helped to clarify this moment.
However this was a small moment in an otherwise very enjoyable evening. I was accompanied by my two junior reviewers, both dancers and musical fans. I only had to look at them regularly during the show to see that they were thoroughly engaged in the show, especially during the big dance numbers.
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