The Met’s production of 42nd Street is a visual feast. The set design (by Ben Saunders and Greer Tappert) includes numerous high-quality and interestingly devised visual projections that form the backbone of what is seen onstage. The transitions from one scene to another (with excellent use of crew and cast) are very smooth, and this is all complemented with a tightly designed and well executed lighting design (Jamie Lee Rayner), and a costume plot to die for. I repeat. It’s a visual feast.
The show itself has a fairly mundane story line which is not unique. It’s a backstage story of a theatre company that gets itself into a bit of trouble for which the chosen solution is to elevate an ingénue to the role of leading lady. It’s a storyline that has oft been used, and of course involves a fading senior actress and an infatuated young leading man who thinks the ‘changing of the guard’ is just the ‘ants pants’. What makes 42nd Street stand out, or should make it stand out, is the plethora of high energy dance routines and hummable tunes, and director Ben Saunders and choreographer Jacinta Vistoli have come up trumps in that regard. From the opening curtain raiser to the closing curtain call, the stage is full of colourfully dressed and high-energy tappers executing inventive and attention-grabbing seemingly endless routines with keen precision and a deep sense of fun and enjoyment. There hasn’t been better dancing on an Adelaide community theatre stage for some time.
The story line is almost an excuse for a dance spectacular, but the singing and acting is also important. In fact, because of the lack-lustre story line (this show really is beginning to show its age), the principals need to be archetypal ‘triple threats’ at the top of their game, otherwise the whole show is little more than a dancing and … visual feast with no real grunt. In this production, the principals pull it off, in the main. Sophie Schwab plays Peggy Sawyer, the ingénue, with sweetness and brimming confidence. Her singing voice is strong, tuneful, and clear. Liam Phillips plays Billy Lawler, the young romantic lead, with consistent excitement and energy. Although his voice is not large, his duet with Schwab and his numbers with the ensemble are toe-tappingly enjoyable. Lisa Lanzi dances well with studied care and is pleasingly larger-than-life as Maggie Jones. Some minor audio engineering issues challenged her early in Act 1. Angus Smith underplays impresario Julian Marsh and gives him an aloofness that becomes very funny deep into Act 2. Smith is at times challenged by the grandness of the musical numbers, such as ‘Lullaby of Broadway’, but Tammy Papp’s very fine musical direction of an impressively musical and well-balanced orchestra gives all the assistance needed. Jenny Scarce is the standout as the fading star Dorothy Brock. She is brash, raucous, larger than life, and very funny. The named principals are rounded out with Barbara Nutchey (Ann), Rebekah Goodall (Lorraine), Emily Fitzpatrick (Phyllis), Joel Amos (Bert), Barry Hill (Abner), Jay Mancuso (Pat), Monique Millar (Andy) and Shelley Bowen (Mac & Stage Manager). The members of the ensemble are ever reliable and create some amusing and effective characters. (Joshua Budiman’s miming at the piano was noteworthy!)
The Met has previously performed 42nd Street as recently as 2010, and the current production adds to their tradition of high quality.