In Review > International

42nd Street

Théâtre du Châtelet

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Monique Young as Peggy Sawyer and Billy Lawlor as Dan Burton in Stephen Mear's production of 42nd Street at the Châtelet
© Théâtre du Châtelet, Marie-Noëlle Robert
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Alexander Hanson as Julian Marsh and Young
© Théâtre du Châtelet, Marie-Noëlle Robert

42ND STREET  was the final new production at the Châtelet before the theater closes for renovations, and was also the last show of outgoing intendant Jean-Luc Choplin. For the past ten years, Choplin has made the house the home of American music theater in France, with a string of hits ranging from a Sondheim cycle to last season’s Singin’ In The Rain. Choreographer Stephen Mear and music director Gareth Valentine, who were teamed for Rain, were reunited for this joyous dance down Forty-Second Street. The capacity audience on November 23 welcomed this temporary farewell to the Châtelet with a merited standing ovation.

The 1980 Broadway musical of 42nd Street, inspired by Lloyd Bacon’s original 1933 Warner Brothers film, is one of the rare occasions where the stage version of a classic celluloid musical equals the original. The backstage drama of a young girl who becomes an overnight star is slim, but the score by Harry Warren and Al Dubin is a scintillating feast of energizing tap and ensemble numbers that was created to lift the spirits of the American public during the Great Depression. The evening at the Châtelet had the same effect on a morose Parisian public, who will be enjoying the show over the festive Christmas holiday period. The prodigious display of 1930s costumes and sets by Peter McKintosh were worthy of the film’s original choreographer, Busby Berkeley; scenes were magically transformed without pause for breath in this spectacular display of Broadway professionalism in the French capital. 

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Stephen Mear's production of 42nd Street at the Châtelet
© Théâtre du Châtelet, Marie-Noëlle Robert

Despite the simplicity of the storyline, Mear, who was responsible for the stage direction as well the thrilling fireworks of the choreography, found an unexpected depth and truth in the characters. British actor Alexander Hanson’s moving performance realized all the desperation and humanity of the impassioned theater director Julian Marsh, for whom the show-within-a-show musical Pretty Lady represents his last professional chance. Welsh star Ria Jones brought vocal authority, capricious prima donna mannerisms and a delightful sense of comedy to the scenes displaying aging diva Dorothy Brock’s lack of dancing skills. Jones also registered moving recognition of the talents Peggy Sawyer, the young star in waiting that replaces Brock in Pretty Lady at the last minute; as Sawyer, Monique Young wielded breathtaking virtuosity and innocent charm. Sawyer’s smiling leading man, Billy Lawlor, was the exceedingly supple actor/dancer Dan Burton, the rising West End star who was so impressive as Don Lockwood in last season’s Singin’ In The Rain. Great comic support and dancing precision came from Jennie Dale as Maggie Jones, one of the Pretty Lady writers. The only criticism possible of this life-enhancing evening in the theater were some “American” accents that sounded as if they had crossed the Channel rather the Atlantic, and the blanket amplification that the Châtelet uses for all of its musicals, which saturates the voices and diminishes the impact of the spoken dialogue.

The ensemble of dancers all deserve the highest praise for their frenetic energy and smiling good humor under the baton of Gareth Valentine, who led the predominately brass ensemble with his usual stylish verve, bringing to life the catalogue of timeless Warren and Dubin movie hits used to create the score for the stage version of 42nd Street, including a sparkling version of “We’re in the Money” and a nostalgic “Lullaby of Broadway.”  —Stephen J. Mudge 

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