The Chichester Festival Theatre, Monday 23 August 2010
Review by Emma Shane
© September 2010
I had seen the classic film, but until now I had not seen the stage version of this musical. I already knew that, besides the plot and several songs from the film, the show interpolated a number of other Harry Warren & Al Dubin songs from various other Warner Brothers Musicals of the same genre (commonly known as the Busby Berkley Musicals).
On arriving at the theatre, we learn via a notice that one of the minor company members Matthew Cheney is indisposed, so his role of Melvin will be played by other members of the company.
The show gets off to a rousing start as the house lights are lowered, doors at the back of the stage are opened, to reveal The Orchestra, who are seated right at the back of the stage, with maestro Julian Kelly standing before them conducting. He is rather impressive to watch. He may not jump about quite as much as Hans Weisler Moste, or for that matter Jason Carr (when Jason isn’t trying to play the accordion at the same time as conduct that is), nevertheless Julian moves about a fair amount, clearly a part of the action.
Presently, after some off-stage voices talking about Marsh putting on a show, and how they are going to work again, a large trap door opens in the centre of the stage, and on a platform up rise a group of chorus, being put through their paces by Dance Director Andy Lee, played by Alan Burkitt. This man is quite an amazing dancer, almost a reminder of what Tim Flavin himself must’ve been like when he was younger. The opening dance routine more or less ends with Tim Flavin himself making an entrance, in the role of Julian Marsh. We also get noticeable appearances from Louise Plowright and Christopher Howell in the roles of Maggie Jones and Bert Barry respectively, the show within the show’s authors. It’s soon apparent, by her shear stage presence if nothing else, not to mention her delivery of acidly witty lines, that Maggie is the driving force behind the pair. “Come on we’ve got four more songs to write” she barks, practically dragging Bert back to work, as he protests the songs don’t need to be done just yet. How deliciously good Louise Plowright is at delivering that kind of quick fire dialog. Somewhere along the line she even has a cutting line about tenors (I can’t remember what it was, but to give such a line to her!). It is largely from Maggie too that we learn why the show has to star Dorothy Brock, whom Julian doesn’t really want to use. The Depression is on something called “Kitty Cars” are one of the few things not too affected by the economic situation, these are owned by Abner Dillon who happens to be Brock’s ‘Sugar Daddy’. It is the quick witted witty Maggie too who suggests how Julian might best use Brock, who apparently can’t really dance: Just let her flap her arms a bit and have some girls dance round her. This can’t help but amuse those of us who know that Brock is played in this production by Kathryn Evans (who is actually a well trained dancer).
Peggy’s first entrance quickly introduces us to the cute bundle of humanity that is Lauren Hall, while Oliver Brenin as Billy makes himself noticed. Both Lauren and Oliver are Arts Ed trained, so as one might expect they are pretty good entertainers and decent dancers, with a lot of the sort of presence one gets used to finding among that institutions performers. Of course they do Young And Healthy justice. That said, I didn’t think Oliver to be quite as good a dancer as I would have expected for this role, but he is reasonably satisfactory.
The last major member of the company to appear on stage is Kathryn Evans playing Dorothy Brock. Though the character might be supposed to be unpleasant, Kathryn somehow manages to make her surprisingly almost likeable and quite gracious. Maggie then demonstrates a new song that has been written for Brock, Shawdow Waltz. This proves to be one of the comic high points of the show. Clearly Maggie is supposed to be the kind of book-writer/lyricist who writes because it’s the only showbuisness thing she is good at. or at least, she clearly is not meant to be any good at singing this song. Now in this production of 42nd Street, Maggie is played by Louise Plowright, who can sing, rather well. The result is that she contrives to sing the song as if it were being slugged about in the wrong tempo by a not very good (or at any rate not sympathetic to the song) jazz singer.
Then, having heard Louise’s efforts at singing the hell out of Shadow Waltz, in an almost Merrily We Roll Along style (a la Good Thing Going) we hear how sweet and beautiful the song can actually sound, as Kathryn sings it, three quarters slower. The number soon attains new comical heights, as several chorus girls swarm around Kathryn, while she pretends to not be able to dance all that well, and to be blinded by the spot-lights. But somehow with her graceful por de bras her RB training just can’t help but show through. All in all a very funny number, simply because two leading ladies pretending to do things badly, that they actually do rather well is funny, especially as both Louise an Kathryn are the sort of talented performers, who are just too good at what they do to actually be convincing at doing it badly.
With the chorus being one short (Andy didn’t hire enough) Julian hires Peggy Sawyer to make up the numbers, and she is invited to lunch with the other girls, and Maggie, who makes them dance to the cafe; where the witty wise-cracker has a few splendid lines about tea bags, hot water and gravy to deliver before they all tell Peggy to Go Into Your Dance. By coincidence, I recently heard Kim Criswell’s recording of this song, and I knew from that it would be a wonderful number for Louise Plowright, which of course it is. Musically it suits her vocal talents perfectly, and fortunately Julian Kelly is clearly an excellent musical director in this respect. Maggie opens the number, seated centre stage at a table in the cafe, with the other girls (Peggy, Annie, Phyllis, and Lorraine) sitting nearby. Her hands are expressive as they drum on the table at the start of the number, but what truly sells that song is her big gloriously rich melodic voice, with very clear diction. The other girls promptly illustrate the lyric by dancing, along with Andy, and the waiters. In fact Louise dances too, briefly, however it is noticeable that for her Andrew Wright has kept the choreographic requirements strictly within her capabilities, with the other girls having far more complex pieces to dance. Louise’s dancing contribution to the number is good, though, but it is her singing where she really shines.
By the time that number is over, they all seem to be back at the theatre, without having had lunch.
On with the rehearsals for the show within a show, it is Kathryn Evans’s turn to sing, one of the great Harry Warren &Al Dubin classics You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me. She sings beautifully, and once again, this Royal Ballet trained dancer just can’t really convince in pretending to dance badly, she’s too graceful for that. Kathryn is wearing a blue dress, earlier it had looked as though it was more turquoise than blue, but now, possibly due to Chris Ellis’s lighting, it appears to take on a shade note dissimilar to the ship logo of a certain classic children’s television programme. Peggy falls down in a lack of lunch faint, and is carried to Brock’s dressing room, where boyfriend Pat Denning is waiting for Dorothy. It is Tim whose acting really carries the ensuring scene; pretending to Dillon that Denning is Peggy’s boyfriend, sending Denning off with Peggy to get her some food, and finally phoning up some low-life character he knows to get Denning threatened to stay away from Brock (for now). Tim acts this all magnificently, especially the bit on the telephone to the gangster, and his explanation to Andy “I used his girlfriend in my last show”.
Maggie and Bert’s startling piece of news about the out of town try-outs being moved to Philadelphia finds everyone, including Pat, getting Out Of Town (to go to Philadelphia). The programme gives the number as being sung by Maggie, Bert, Pat and the Company. This is accurate in so far as Louise Plowright with her big rather brassy voice dominates the song, however it is also very much an ensemble effort from the whole company, all with suitcases of varying sizes. A glorious number, well staged (almost reminiscent of Busby Berkley), and of course vocally Louise sets the standard for everyone to follow. It is something of a showstopper, and for a moment one wonders if it might be an act finale.
However, the rest of the first act is taken up with song after song (four in all), representing selection of the out of town try-out of Pretty Lady. First up is Dames, sung by Oliver Brenin as Billy, along with the company. This is perhaps the least well sung number in the medley. There is nothing wrong with it. Simply that Oliver Brenin never quite manages to make the song his own. One just can’t help but think of Dick Powell or Brent Barrett. Nevertheless it is an entirely passable performance. However it is spectacularly staged, particularly when several dames enter, though the auditorium in full follies regalia, complete with headdresses (yes those costumes honestly looked like they could have come straight out of a production of Follies). One could have thought it might end the act. Then Oliver is teamed with Kathryn for I Only Have Eyes For You. It’s a classic song, and Kathryn’s singing is sweetness in itself, but somehow the only really remarkable thing is Dillon’s objections to it. He certainly acts like one of those silly investors who think they know everything about creating art, when really they haven’t got a clue. However, the next number actually eclipses this and proves to be a near showstopper. We’re In The Money, one of the great classics of the Harry Warren & Al Dubin catalogue, originally from Golddiggers Of 1933, but getting almost as well known for being in the stage version of 42nd Street. The number’s opening is a surprise, a group of four company members dressed as overgrown urchins find the dime on the sidewalk. Swiftly the rest of the chorus come on clad more as one might expect for this number, though towards the end it gets a little over the top as several of them (possibly those who had earlier been the urchins) enter, though the auditorium. The number is of course super, a real spectacular, even on Chichester’s not exactly large stage. Just about the only thing missing are the “Pig Latin” lyrics (which Ginger Rogers improvised in the film). One actually almost doesn’t spot Lauren Hall in this number, she blends in so easily with the rest of the chorus. It is so spectacular one might have supposed it to end the act, but no. There’s one more number. The Act 1 Finale itself is in fact a little of the title song 42nd Street, sung by Kathryn Evans as Dorothy, accompanied by most of the chorus. Then in the middle of it all she falls down, and complains that Peggy pushed her. Peggy seems to have a habit of barging into people, by mistake. Anyway, she is carried off-stage, while Tim Flavin as Julian enters, fires Sawyer, and calls for the “House Lights.”, which I’m sure all the audience knows is in the script, and so ends a rather long act. But of course that is the right point in the plot to end the act. One of the problems with turning films into stage shows as that they are often structured differently. Stage shows are usually written to have some kind of dramatic incident halfway through, right before interval, but films do not have that requirement, so when turning a stage show into a film it can sometimes be problematic to fit the interval in, while preserving the expected plot structure of the piece.
Act 2, opens, startlingly. The house lights still seem to be half up, and the sound is very loud when it starts, particularly as we are not yet expecting it. It commences just as Act 1 had done, with Julian Kelly centre stage conducting the audience for the Entr’acte.
The Company assemble on stage to hear their fate, Pretty Lady is to close, therefore they will all be out of jobs. Annie and the company express this with There’s A Sunny Side To Every Situation. Al Dubin’s poingent lyrics are so apt not only for The Depression in which they were written, but also for the current world economic situation. Besides this song Lisa Donmall as Annie has another shining moment in the dialogue scene which follows, when she sugguests Sawyer could replace Brock as star. Louise Plowright and Christopher Howell as Maggie and Bert do a fine job of being enthusiastic at the idea. Even Tim Flavin acts jolly convincingly at being convinced by the idea. However the most memorable part of the scene is Louise getting the last word, as she gleefully yells something along the lines of “We’ll give him five minutes to convince her, then we’ll send in the big guns” at which everyone rushes off stage (though the auditorium) to the ‘station’.
At The Station (which the stage now is) Peggy is pacing the platform when Julian Marsh enters. Up until now Tim Flavin has proven to be a good actor, as we all know he is, but now he comes into his own as a terrific singer, wrapping his own lovely, quite rich, voice around the opening of the classic Lullaby Of Broadway. This brilliantly staged number soon proves to be the catchiest in the entire show. Lauren darts all over the stage, Peggy is evidently looking for an escape route, but each time she does so another member of the company enters at that exit-entrance point to join in the song, and soon the stage is full of most of the company (in fact pretty much everyone except Steven Houghten and Kathryn Evans). But however much this number is meant to be an ensemble effort, there is one person who makes a particularly striking entrance, and nearly steals the number into the bargain, and that is Louise Plowright. With her big voice, and excellent stage presence from the moment she enters she does rather dominate that number. In fact if any of the company (particularly any principal) had dared to cheat the audience by letting the standard of their performance drop below the what is expected in that number she would have made sure they were overshadowed. In fact her rather striking entrance (she is one of the various company members blocking Peggy’s escape) is very interesting. I could sense at once from the way she did it (amazingly similar to at least two moments in Mamma Mia) that this was a moment in the show where if the energy level had needed bringing up to scratch, she would have given that entrance whatever extra was required, though tonight as that was not needed, she held back a little, while still being one of the very best things about the number.
Back in New York, Lauren Hall stars in Montage, tap dancing as the star, backed by the chorus, this is a musical selection of excerpts of various numbers that had been seen earlier. Now turned into a passage-of-time combination (a bit like what Jason Carr did with that wonderful song Artiste Of The Day). In Montage we see Peggy getting progressively tireder. Lauren does a splendid job of illustrating this with her dancing, almost falling about the stage. She is clearly very skilled to act this, but then she is Arts Ed trained.
Having fainted once again (this time from exhaustion), Peggy is in her dressing room getting ready, with very little time to go, when Pat Denning wheels Dorothy Brock on, in a wheelchair. Kathryn Evans, once again in her turquoise dress (with her right leg bound up as though in plaster) makes the most of her only Act 2 scene. Her speaking voice is beautifully silky, and she makes Dorothy so thoroughly likeable, and yet totally convincing making peace with Peggy, as the pair duet About A Quarter To Nine. In fact it is Kathryn who carries the song, though Lauren is good. Arts Ed (which both had some training at) clearly turns out good singers as well as good dancers. (In fact anyone who saw Jason Carr’s terrific musical of The Waterbabies on this very stage would know very well that Arts Ed can turn out good seriously good singers, since that institution was also responsible for educating that musical’s Leading lady, with whom Kathryn, one might add, has dueted Waiting For The Boys Downstairs eight years ago in Follies).
There follows, as we all know and are expecting, a dialogue scene between Marsh and Sawyer. Now it is Tim Flavin’s turn to deliver the best known line of the entire show, indeed a real musical theatre classic. It gets quite a build up, almost to the point where we begin to wonder if he is going to say it at all. But of course he does, and makes the classic line very much his own “You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star”.
At long last we get a bit of Pretty Lady’s opening night. Here we have one more great Harry Warren and Al Dubin classic, Shuffle Off To Buffalo. This number proves to be a great treat. Surprisingly very few of the show’s stars are involved at all. It is also rather different to the film version. The number opens comically with Christopher Howell and Lisa Donmall as the happy couple. Very clearly an older man and a younger, already fairly scantily clad girl. Cleverly all the other chorus girls come on in identical dressing gowns, along with three curtain rails on wheels, which are used to represent the berths on the train. Halfway through the song, while the number’s couple have gone to change costume, from a doorway, stage left towards the back of the stage Louise Plowright enters, wearing a long dressing-gown, and wraps her beautiful rich voice around a the middle verse. The number suits Louise’s voice perfectly, and as for the character; did she slip a bit of Mamma Mia’s Tanya in there? Hmmm could be, the character is a cheery high maintenance divorcee, the sort who one could just imagine telling a friend “Didn’t leave them their millions”. In this verse there is one particular line which stands out, it is in fact in the film version, but handled quite differently, the line is “When she knows as much as we know she’ll be on her way to Reno...” In the film there are two older girls, and the “we” is clearly the two divorcees. However, tonight on the stage, the “we” is clearly the singer and the audience. Plowright, makes this abundantly clearly, as she glances knowingly at the audience, with a distinctive steely look in her blue eyes that has a sororial similarity to a certain operatic diva. The final verse finds the happy couple back, now clad in their underwear. Christopher Howell proves that though a little overweight he clearly can dance, quite decently. At any rate he proves to be very funny. The stageing of the number concludes with him ending up in a compartment with most of the chorus girls, where Lisa finds him and with the assumption he has had them, she leaves in disgust, which of course adds to the memorability of the middle verse “When she knows as much as we know....” The song has some significant lyric changes from the more cautious film. Though the meaning is pretty much the same, just a bit more explicit. Whereas in the film the happy could sing “Someday I hope we’ll be elected to buy a lot of baby clothes” on the stage this becomes “Someday the stork may pay a visit”. While the divorcee’s lyrics in the film include a load of stuff about “I’ll be that she’s the farmer’s daughter....” whereas on the stage we get “First you file a load of subpoenas...” It is a superb number. It is also the second catchiest song in the entire show. All the cast who took part did it well. Christopher Howell proved to be surprisingly good. But in the end the most memorable thing about the number, is Louise Plowright, particularly when she addresses the audience directly, as though sharing a joke or insight with them. I’ve rarely come across an instance in a musical where a cast member had to do that, and I can’t recall Louise doing that before, but she certainly connects with the audience, and can easily handle that. A splendid singer-actress.
In a way Shuffle Off To Buffalo was going to be a hard act to follow, and it is Lauren’s job to follow it, with a reprise of the title song. Perhaps reprise isn’t quite the right word, for in fact when the song was done in Act 1 it ended part way through. Now we get the whole song. It’s really very dramatic, and something about the staging makes this more so. There is a tension in the number, at least until it gets past the bit where it ends in act 1, and then the tension builds up again during a fight scene, which Lauren is furiously tap dancing around. It’s an impressive number and Lauren Hall makes it very much her own, to the extent that at least for the duration of her performance (if not longer) one does not think at all of Ruby Keeler having originated it.
The final dialogue scene finds Peggy invited to two parties, first “The Kids” party, as the chorus’s one is referred to, and then Maggie and Bert invite her to a posh shindig. Until now, apart from her performance in Shuffle Off To Buffalo, Louise Plowright always seemed to be wearing the same long blue skirt and blouse, But now she appears in white slacks and a dark blouse. However, they too exit, and Peggy left alone on the stage with Marsh chooses The Kids party, and invites Julian Marsh to join them. She exits, and it is Tim Flavin who gets the finale all to himself, a short reprise of the title song 42nd Street. He has such a wonderful voice. it’s just a shame he doesn’t get to dance while singing it, though he still moves very gracefully.
Finally it is everyone on stage for their bows, order of precedence. First the general chorus people , then the various slightly more featured people. Louise, and Christopher were third from last, along with two other people (possibly Alan Burkitt and Lisa Donmall). Something of a come-down for Louise (after last year). The last but one bow went, as these things often do, to the juvenile leads, Oliver Brenin and Lauren Hall. The final bow went jointly to Tim Flavin and Kathryn Evans, so they are clearly regarded as joint stars of the show in this production. After the bows, the entire company tap dance their way through a song reprise, I think the tune was the title song, but I was paying far more attention to the dancing than the tune. The dancing was mostly time steps, I think. Fortunately the three old troupers, who really are the best things of all about this show, and very much the reason to see it, are all centre stage. So one can watch them all at once. Kathryn is centre stage, displaying her own wonderfully neat footwork (which I had so admired before when she and two other fine singer-actress-dancers did a terrific The Mirror Number in Follies). To Kathryn’s left we have, joy of joys Tim Flavin. He is just an amazing tap dancer, and it’s wonderful at long last in this show to see a hint, just a hint of how wonderful his dancing could be. To Kathryn’s right is Louise, and her dancing too is worth seeing. Perhaps not quite as polished as Kathryn and Tim, but nevertheless pretty good (not for nothing was she in the original UK touring cast of Hot Shoe Shuffle), and the steps here are clearly ones she can handle with confidence. All in all an excellent way of ending a wonderful show.
Regional theatres, even good ones like Chichester, often have to put up with whatever talents they can realistically get. Paul Kerryson has had a lot of experience of that at Leicester, which is perhaps why he is so skilled at getting the best out of performers. Tonight he did a fantastic job. In a way he’s a bit of a latter-day Joan Littlewood in that respect. Another person who clearly did a fantastic job is Julian Kelly conducting what for Chichester is quite a large orchestra. During the openings of the acts he was very much part of the action. In addition he has clearly done a very good job with the cast, and in getting all the songs just right. One can tell he has done a good job, because everybody sang so well, and Louise Plowright in particular sang well, unlike last year’s production of Oklahoma! where her singing seemed to be suffering slightly from Cathryn Jayes less then perfect musical direction. Andrew Wright’s choreography also seems to be well suited to the abilities of the company. He himself once danced in a production of Follies (along with Kathryn Evans). Like that production of Follies (and possibly the Royal Festival Hall’s On Your Toes), about a quarter of the cast were trained at Arts Educational, and this very probably shows, for the dancing in this show was of a generally high standard, and no doubt in both instances they are performers who played a significant part in it being so good, and so well worth seeing. Ashley Martin-Davis’s designs sometimes perhaps go a little over the top for a regional theatre, one might hope this were worthy of a West End transfer. But the designs are absolutely right for the musical. This is a stage tribute to the great Busby Berkely spectaculars, so it has to be spectacular somehow or another. Chris Ellis’s lighting design is also entirely satisfactory, with the one exception being the house lights not dimming enough at the start of Act 2. This may have been intentional, but I think it is wrong because by not dimming the lights the audience were rather taken by surprise when the orchestra started up so loudly. One thing which stands out in design is Matt McKenzie’s sound design. This must have been good, because, with the exception of the Act 2 opening, the miking was completely unobtrusive, and I was totally unaware of the sound design during the performance, which is always a sign that it is good.
In addition to Paul Kerryson’s directing, the show is generally very well cast, and it is a well balanced cast. By this I mean that the stage presence, and balance of power between the company is generally pretty much where it ought to be, or at least there is nothing too unbalanced about it. For example we have Louise Plowright in a supporting role, but playing support to leads such as Kathryn Evans, Tim Flavin, and Lauren Hall, all of whom are talents worthy of having her in a good supporting role. I used to think that there were some performers whom you just couldn’t put in a minor role without making the show very unbalanced. It was watching Louise Plowright leading the cast of Mamma Mia which made me realise that it is perfectly fine to have performers with tremendous stage presence and a tendency to make it noticed in supporting roles, provided that the performers carrying the show as leads are actually good enough in their performance, and have a strong enough stage presence to withstand even the most determined upstaging. (After all in Mamma Mia cast 2, leading lady Louise Plowright had to withstand having “The English Muppet” as one of her supporting Dynamos). Kathryn Evans too is pretty capable and experienced of this sort of thing no matter who her co-stars are (her own performance in Follies certainly proved that). While Tim Flavin is very experienced, and I expect he is probably more than capable of not being overshadowed by anyone, though I haven’t seen him really put to the test. Anyway, Tim Flavin and Kathryn Evans are certainly the kind of leads who are more than capable of heading a show, which includes among the cast quite strong supporting players, which makes for a well balanced show.
Although all the cast do well, they are superbly led by a new performing triumvirate (Louise Plowright, Kathryn Evans, and, Tim Flavin), who set a very high standard which everyone else has to measure up to. Chichester’s shows have benefited from strong threesomes before, remember the trio of producers back in 2003? Now we have a trio of singer-actors making another excellent triumvirate for Chichester.
All the chorus consisting of: Karen Aspinall, Lisa Dent, Luke Fetherstone, Jane Fowler, Lucinda Lawrence, David Lucas, Matthew Malthouse, Peter McCarthy, Kate Nelson, Pippa Raine, Nancy Wei George, Jason Winter, and, Gary Wood generally did well. Steve Fortune managed not to make Abner Dillon into too much of a caricature but quite a decent if slightly buffoonish character, while Steve Houghton made Pat Denning into a rather likeable guy, patiently in love with Dorothy and one could see why in the end she would want him. As Ann Reilly Lisa Donmall proves to be a fine dancer and a pretty decent actress., though she doesn’t seem to be too good at withstanding other people’s stage presence. I wasn’t too sure about her performance in Shuffle Off To Buffalo, but that may have been an intentional piece of comedy. She was particularly good in There’s A Sunny Side To Every Situation and the dialogue scene that followed it, well at least until Louise Plowright eclipsed everyone at the end of that dialogue scene. Anyway, generally Lisa proved to be exactly the kind of steady good bit player good musicals always need. In fact she is the kind of performer who would be an asset to the company of any of the big West End shows. Another excellent bit part, as Andy Lee the Dancer Director Alan Burkitt proves to be a real find of a dancer, definitely one to look out for if you like good tap dancing in your musical theatre. In many ways he reminds one of Tim Flavin, as Tim might have been when he was younger. In fact if anyone ever considers Tim for a production of Follies how about using Alan for the role of his character’s young ghost? Indeed this is one of those instances (similar to that which occurred a few years ago here in Out Of This World) where a lesser character seems to do a better job than a slightly more major one. For Oliver Brenin, despite being trained at Arts Educational, does not appear to be quite as good a performer, at least not dancewise, as Alan Burkitt. Nevertheless Oliver is by no means bad. He sings nicely, gives his character a pleasant personality, that seems genuine, and is generally satisfactory. Another performer who is generally satisfactory, though also not perfect is Christopher Howell, but given where he trained that is not too surprising, fortunately he is a man (as that institution seem to turn out better male performers than female). Christopher Howell spent much of the first act being rather unnoticeable, or to be more precise getting acted off the stage by Louise Plowright, the Bristol Old Vic trained actress simply outclassed him. However, during the second act he seemed to come more into his own, delivering a couple of memorable lines (which I now can’t remember what they were), and proving that he can dance, comically, in Shuffle Off To Buffalo, where he was very funny, if still somewhat eclipsed. Fortunately for the show, the major juvenile lead Lauren Hall is one of those really good Arts Ed trained performers, the sort with plenty of stage presence, who are more than capable of holding their own on the stage, and if needed are quite capable of upstaging if they want to. (Arts Ed has turned out quite a few of them over there years including: Louise Gold, Paul Spicer, Scarlett Strallen, and Rebecca Thornhill among others).Tonight Lauren made the classic role of Peggy Sawyer very much her own. Like any good Arts Ed person she truly can sing dance and act. Her dancing is clearly good, especially as she managed to dance well while convincingly acting tired. and to get the sort of stunts of fainting and barging into people by mistake just right must have taken some skill. In addition, despite a flesh-coloured support it was quite visible to the audience that she had an injured right knee bound up, but from her dancing alone one would never have known that. Another former Arts Ed girl, who proves her worth in this show is of course Kathryn Evans, she too can sing dance and act. She manages to portray Dorothy as someone the audience might even feel some sympathy for. She isn’t really a villain, and some the piece does not actually require to her be so. She really can dance, as her graceful por de bras prove, even when she is pretending to do it badly, and in fact this is actually quite funny. While her singing is beautiful. Another person who turns out a surprisingly brilliant singing and acting performance is Tim Flavin. He makes the role of Julian Marsh his own. it’s a joy to see him act. It is only tinged with sadness that this is not a dancing role, but perhaps he is getting too old for that sort of thing, nevertheless it is terrific to see him on the Chichester stage, where back in 2001 (with a West End transfer in 2002, he starred (and danced) in My One And Only. Someone else who was starring in the West End back in 2002, is Louise Plowright. It would be grand to have her back there, though only if it were the right role (Bad Girls The Musical for example would have been just too much of a come down). Her role in 42nd Street, by contrast is a perfect match for her talents. A splendid acting role, well suited to her characterisation, where she gets to utilise her ability to deliver wisecracks, just enough dancing to be within her capabilities, and therefore the kind of bits she can do decently, and several great classic songs to sing, which seem to suit her voice very well. I do wish this show were to get a transfer, not least because it would be a wonderful one to have her back in the West End in. However, even out in the provinces, and especially in dear Chichester, it’s just wonderful to see her in a musical where her talents are made good use of, even in a supporting role, and fortunately too she is playing a supporting role to leads who are worthy of it. She may not be a star this time, but she’s a wonderful find for both Paul Kerryson and The Chichester Festival Theatre, exactly the kind of actress they need.
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