42nd Street (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)

This is a big show.  A big big big show which opens with a chorus of 42 pairs of tapping feet as the curtain rises as if to say, top this!

Sheena Easton is still out with the ‘flu, so CJ Johnson is playing the brittle and slightly past-it Dorothy Brock, and she’s a knockout.  The Boulevard of Broken Dreams number is marvellous, and I Only Have Eyes for You is sweet.

As the young juvenile Billy Lawlor, Stuart Neal has bags of energy, and his musical comedy made me think of the great vaudevillian Bert Wheeler, a comic hoofer who also sang and played the eternal youth.

The pivotal role of Peggy Sawyer, who ‘goes out a youngster, but has to come back a star’, only works if the actress has that sprinkling of fairy dust which makes you think she has it, and Clare Halse has the innocence of a Ruby Keeler as well as the steel of a Ginger Rogers.

Tom Lister’s Julian Marsh may well be charmed by this fresh young thing who still believes in her dreams: she makes him less jaded, he makes her more knowing.

Also of note in the leading cast are Jasna Ivir and Christopher Howell as writers and low comedians Maggie and Bert.  Howell teams with Emma Caffrey’s Anytime Annie (‘the only time she said no she didn’t hear the question’) for Shuffle Off To Buffalo, while Ivir leads the girls in Go Into Your Dance.

I also like Bruce Montague’s hick millionaire Abner and Graeme Henderson’s dance captain Andy, the former a good comic foil and the latter an accomplished showman.

As for those routines, we get big staircases, a railway station, a mirror which reflects reclining ladies in a sequence which apes the best of Busby Berkeley, chorus lines of high camp and high kicks, beautiful costumes and countless set changes.

The songs are by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, direction by Mark Bramble, and the fabulous orchestra is conducted by Jae Alexander.


Petula Clark (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)

A run of Sunday night concerts at the Theatre Royal continued last week with a visit from one of the 60s legends of song, Petula Clark.  Now in her ninth decade she might not have the wide range which served her well in performances such as ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’, but her set-list here, with an appreciative audience in London, does give an indication of the range she still has.

Her new album, ‘Lost in You’, is a mix of re-workings of old hits, and covers of more modern material (such as ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley).  We heard several pieces from it – a version of Elvis’s ‘Love Me Tender’, one of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, a piece with Clark’s lyrics to the music of Bach – ‘Reflections’, and the title song itself, which is a tender and slow ballad, beautifully put across.

(Here’s Petula singing ‘Lost in You’, on Belgian television).

The 1960s songbook still remains a crowd-pleaser: ‘Colour My World’, ‘Sailor’, ‘This Is My Song’, ‘I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love’, ‘I Know A Place’, ‘A Sign Of The Times’, ‘Don’t Sleep In The Subway’, and, of course, ‘Downtown’.  Her obvious energy and enjoyment in performing these songs is infectious and if she doesn’t always reach the notes, well, she is a bona fide star and still gives a great show.

She also gave a nod to her work in musicals – a couple of songs from the film she made with Fred Astaire and Tommy Steele, ‘Finian’s Rainbow’, and ‘With One Look’ in full Norma Desmond mode from ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (a role I saw her play, and she was sensational, even more so when she confides she did not like the character at all).

I’d also add that this lady is graceful, looks great, dresses well and with style, and is gracious in praise of those she has worked with and known (Elvis, Lennon, Dusty, Karen Carpenter).   It is easy to forget what a huge star Petula Clark was in her day, and she well deserved the standing ovation she received at the end of the night.