42nd Street is the quintessential backstage musical – all the clichés are in place: the sweat, the tears, the triumphs.
Chelmsford Young Generation bring an enthusiastic freshness to the familiar numbers; it’s a treat to see the stage crowded with performers across the age range, every last one of them following Francis’s lead and getting out those tap shoes.
Jeremy Tustin’s production uses costume and décor to recapture the golden age of the Great White Way: the famous Shadow Waltz, the iconic scenes on the Buffalo train, at the dressing-room mirrors, in the Regency Club. Only the music sometimes seemed inappropriately over-powering – people around us were having to shout to be heard above the Overture [beautifully played, as was all the score, by Bryan Cass’s classy pit orchestra].
No lack of class among the leading players, either. As Peggy Sawyer, Georgia Clements is a convincingly innocent ingénue, impressing the girls in the line, and the audience beyond the footlights, with her triple threat talent. And making her fairy-tale way from the chorus to the star dressing room. Dorothy Brock, the demanding diva whom Sawyer replaces, is done with some sympathy, compelling stage presence and great maturity by Livi Khattar; her moods, her megalomania and her vulnerability are all developed, and Khattar sings wonderfully, too.
Julian Marsh, the dictatorial impresario whose Pretty Lady is the show Sawyer saves, is given a confident performance by Finley Walton, making his début with CYGAMS. A suave song and dance man, he skilfully charts the changing attitudes of his character, from martinet to Broadway besotted pro; hard to believe that this mature performer is still at school.
Billy Lawler, self-confessed tenor and juvenile lead, is in the experienced hands of Charlie Toland, who makes the most of the opportunities the role offers for singing, dancing and amusing the audience.
The comedy duo in this show are Pretty Lady’s writers, Maggie Jones, in a hugely enjoyable performance from Young Gen veteran Millie Parsons – all the laughs, and superb singing too – and Bert Barry, a bespectacled cheeky chappy from Aleks Gulliver, highly entertaining.
Among the many other outstanding performers, Noah Miller as Dance Director Andy – exceptional dancing, even among this accomplished company, culminating in his red-handed thief in the ballet – Kat Maahs as an engaging, radiant Anytime Annie, and Sean Lomas as Pat Denning, Brock’s partner from the old vaudeville days, and still her first choice of love interest, over her current sugar daddy Abner Dillon [Matt Wickham].
All credit, too, to the CYGAMS chorus, resplendent in white tie, or travelling clothes, or classical dance-wear. Some very under-age revellers in that Regency Club, but all of them, tyros or pros, boys or girls, chorus boys or dames, putting on the tap shoes to make like Hollywood hoofers for those unforgettable show-stoppers.