Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, Saturday 10th November, 2018
Originally a novel and then a movie to bring light to the darkness of the Great Depression, this triumphant stage adaptation is irresistible fun. It takes the escapism of the American dream to Broadway, in this showbiz musical about the staging of a Broadway musical. Talented but gauche chorine, Peggy Sawyer, gets her big break when the star of the show gets a little break – to her ankle – and so a star is born. Because anyone can make it, if they are talented, work hard, and have a generous helping of luck. So the American myth goes, anyway.
From the raising of the curtain, revealing a host of dancing feet, the show exhilarates and delights. The production numbers are on the grand scale – this must be the largest chorus in town – the songs are standards and the script by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble is wryly witty. In short, the show is an unadulterated joy.
As the lucky, plucky chorine, Clare Halse is spectacularly good, tap-dancing like a machine gun and singing like an angel. She is more than a match for her predecessor, the mighty Bonnie Langford, giving a masterclass in musical theatre as egotistical diva Dorothy Brock. Langford is star quality personified, and this is a return to her roots after her dowdy and emotional stint in EastEnders. Emmerdale’s Tom Lister barks and throws his weight around as producer Julian Marsh; he has a good singing voice on him too. Yes, the roles are cliched, but these three bring credibility to the scantiness of their characters’ development.
It’s an absolute treat to see romantic lead Ashley Day (for whom I have a pure and boundless love), in his element here as the cheesy, cocky Billy Lawlor, moving with grace, acting with humour and crooning like a dreamboat.
Bruce Montague waddles on and off in a broadly played comic turn as the show’s financer, Abner Dillon. Jasna Ivir and Christopher Howell provide plenty of laughs as the show’s writers and comic duo.
The show would be nothing, though, without the impressive machine that is the chorus, a multitude of individuals who come together and move as one in breath-taking routines. The timing is flawless, the choreography (by Randy Skinner) is both energising and exhausting to behold. Tap-dancing always thrills me but this display goes above and beyond!
In these times of the prolonged agonies of the Austerity lie, and the uncertainties of impending Brexit, this production is a real tonic, sheer entertainment to make a song and dance about – if you can afford a ticket, of course!