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Review: 42nd Street Tour 2023, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

The smash hit musical is showing until Saturday, 19th August 2023

It’s opening night here at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff and the tap happy musical 42nd Street has arrived for one week only.

The musical is based on the novel by Bradford Ropes, which looks at the seedy side of theatre behind the scenes, and was considered scandalous. 42nd Street on Broadway was originally produced by David Merrick and direction and dance by Gower Champion. This musical has managed to snag a number of Tony awards including, Best Musical and Revival of a Musical. It’s unsurprising considering what a timeless long-running hit it has been.

Photo credit: Johan Persson

The current production of the musical is by Jonathan Church Theatre Productions with David Mirvish, one of Britain’s leading choreographers Olivier award winning Bill Deamer is also part of the team.

Picture this, bright lights, glitzy costumes (by the exceptionally talented Robert Jones) and fancy tap work, and you’re still miles off from describing what a fantastic and joyful musical this is.

In this feel good classic, you follow the dreams of a cast of young people looking to make it big in the world of theatre. Set in 1933 in New York City, it comes at a difficult time economically, off the back of the Wall Street crash of 29 and in the midst of the Great Depression. This makes it particularly hard for theatre, with all under pressure to deliver the new musical “Pretty Lady” as it is known in the story, and if it fails? Everyone from the producer to the stage hands will be out on the breadline to boot.

Faye Tozer ‘Maggie Jones’ and Les Dennis ‘Bert Barry’. Photo Johan Persson

That said, 42nd Street is one that is filled with positivity around every corner. Of course, there are some downs, but any sign of sadness is quickly evaporated and overcome with the overwhelmingly love and support from everyone coming together to turn this into a success.

The story follows that of Peggy Sawyer, a naive small-town girl attempting to follow her dreams of making it into a Broadway musical. Rhianna Dorris with her addictive smile captivates audiences from the off. You quickly get to hear and see glimpses of her incredible talents as she partners up with leading actor Billy Lawlor (Sam Lips) in an unofficial audition. Of course, she needs to pluck up the courage and be persuaded first. It isn’t long before her affection for the bright lights and big stage rubs off on others in the cast, who are more than willing to help her make it into the chorus… bar one of course.

Leading lady Dorothy Brock (Samantha Womack – best know for her role as Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders) is the production’s within a production, Pretty Lady’s star performer. And as you can imagine, she isn’t fond of new young talent borrowing the spotlight for even a single second.

Even in the darkest of moments, Peggy Sawyer’s starring talents of fancy footwork and powerful vocals is enough to give everyone a renewed enthusiasm (and hope) for the show. Peggy quickly finds herself stepping into the shoes of Dorothy when a broken ankle threatens to close the show for good.

WMC. Credit: Rhys Gregory

The evenings performance was an embodiment of the story, actress Rhianna Dorris is usually part of the ensemble and instead took the place of Nicole-Lily Baisden last night to play Peggy. The role of Lorraine Fleming was also played by Erica-Jayne Alden who stepped in for Briana Craig.

The production format also intrigued us. I’ve referenced the ‘production within a production’, but let me explain for those who haven’t seen this before. The story is as explained, the storyline follows the making of a production called “Pretty Lady”, but not only do you get to play witness to the rehearsals and the behind the scenes working of how it is made, you ultimately become the audience for the opening night in New York City. Pretty cool, huh? That’s when you see it all come together.

For those really interested, you can see actual rehersal footage on the 42nd Street  YouTube channel here.

Rhianna Dorris is an absolute pleasure to watch. I can only think that her dazzling smile is genuine in playing the role of Peggy Sawyer, and it’s that joy that the audience is really made to feel a part of. And it certainly made at least one of us consider tap dancing lessons.

Sam Lips as Billy Lawlor and Oliver Farnworth as Pat Denning bring the panache of the times and is simply adored by the audience. You can’t forget the amazing characterisation of Abner Dillon by Anthony Ofoegbu, he really makes you feel sorry for the guy and how he’s used as a way to bank roll Dorothy’s dreams.

Samantha Womack ‘Dorothy Brock’. Photo Michelle George

We can’t go without re-mentioning the wonderful Samantha Womack as Dorothy Brock. Faye Tozer and Les Dennis just like Samantha are household names and bring that extra level of class to this musical. You can tell that the auditorium was waiting for them to make their appearance and couldn’t get enough when they did.

As well as the outrageously talented onstage cast [too numerous to mention them all], this musical really brings the hard work of the crew back stage to the forefront of people’s minds, there’s so much that isn’t seen that keeps the show going.

With well known songs such as “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”, “42nd Street”, “Lullaby of Broadway”, “I Only Have Eyes for you” and the iconic “We’re In the Money”, Harry Warren and his writing partner Al Dubin have truly created some masterpieces.

42nd Street is clear, concise and well-packaged to deliver the best of what musicals has to offer.

Age guidance: 5+ (no under 2s)
This production contains repetitive flashing lights and visual effects, pyrotechnics, theatrical smoke and haze, and loud sound effects.

Please note that all under-16s must be seated with an adult aged 18 or above.

Start time:
Mon – Sat 7.30pm
Thu + Sat 2.30pm

Running time: Approximately 2 hours 35 minutes (including an interval)

For more information and to book tickets, visit the Wales Millennium Centre website here.