Friday, June 16, 2017

"42nd Street" In London's West End!

West End is the Mecca of theatre lovers in London. This beautiful and fashionable area in Central and West London is home to about forty or more theatres that are steeped in the culture and art of this historic city. The impressive buildings with their imposing facades stand with pride, inviting people to experience quality theatre.

I watched a musical, "42nd Street" in Theatre Royal, Drury Lane just a few days ago. Commonly known as Drury Lane, the building is the most recent of four theatres which stood at the same location, the earliest of which was built in 1663. This makes it the oldest theatre site in London still in use.

The building that we see today opened in 1812. It has of course undergone renovations since then. It is a grand structure with opulent interiors. Spread over four tiers, it seats over 2,000 people. It has been hosting long runs of prominent musicals over last several decades. It is owned by noted composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

I caught an afternoon show. The time of the day on a weekday meant that senior citizens formed a major part of the audience. I saw many couples, and single women in groups alighting from their cabs in front of the theatre. Many of them were having a tough time negotiating the steps in the auditorium, but I guess their love for theatre overpowered their discomfort. A large group of schoolgirls was there too, clapping and cheering throughout the performance. 

"42nd Street" is a 1980 Broadway production, based on a 1933 film which in turn was based on a 1932 novel of the same name by Bradford Ropes. The show was a hit, winning several awards in different categories. It is a spectacular offering, with a large cast and energetic dance and music sequences. The opening scene sets the tone for the visual and musical treat that is to follow. First, the curtain opens just enough to reveal a long line of tapping feet and then it rises to show about 50 men and women dressed in bright colours dancing and singing joyously.

The story is about a musical "Pretty Lady" for which auditions are going on. The personal relations between the director, writer, lead performers, new entrant Peggy Sawyer and ageing Prima Donna Dorothy Brock come to the forefront as the story unfolds. Along with the music and dance, there is drama, humour and wit as the extravaganza takes us through the next 120 minutes (150 minutes with the intermission).

The costumes with their feathers and spangles are absolutely awesome. The stage is mostly bare, with very few or no props on it. Backdrops have been used generously to convey change of scene and location. I liked the idea of a small room being wheeled in onto the stage and wheeled out into the darkness in the blink of an eye. Once, a part of a house on two levels was brought in, complete with a working staircase. At another time, the whole stage was taken over by a giant staircase with members of the cast jumping and dancing on it. And the performance is absolutely flawless. Of course nothing less is expected from a long-running and award-winning Broadway show being staged at a prominent theatre in the West End.

It is a delight watching well-known British-American singer, recording artist, and stage and screen actress Sheena Easton play the role of Dorothy Brock, who was a lead star once, but now past her prime. She is domineering, bad-tempered, pampered and tough; but shows her softer side by recognising talent when she sees it. Rest of the cast have done a wonderful job too. 

Photos by Lata

The show features lovely songs. In addition to the songs that appeared in the original film, it includes many other songs that the lyricist and the composer wrote for other films around the same time. I liked "About A Quarter To Nine", "Forty-Second Street", " There's a Sunny Side to Every Situation", and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" a lot. The last one was added especially for Sheena Easton in the 2017 West End revival.

Being part of an appreciative audience is always exciting. But I wonder how much more exciting and fulfilling it must have been for those on the stage who were greeted with loud rounds of applause several times during the show. That indeed is the best part of theatre!


  1. You are indeed very fortunate to watch this lata..thank u so much for the information

    1. Thank you Rachu for reading my post and appreciating it. I am glad you liked it. Hope you get to enjoy something like this in the days to come.

  2. Superb narration Lata. I can understand the experience of such a fantastic production enjoying in a great theater. We too had a similar experience in Newyork, way back in Year 2004. We mean myself, Jolly, Mahesh & Josh witnessed a great production "Bombay Dreams" musical produced by Andrew Lloyed Weber. It was simply awesome. Enjoy more such shows before you come back to India.

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    2. Thank you Sunil for reading and appreciating. I am happy I got this opportunity. Your experience must have been fantastic too. As I have mentioned in my post, the theatre I went to is owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber.