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42nd Street - Sadler's Wells Review

Writer: Mark Johnson

Jonathan Church helms a dazzling new staging of the classic musical 42nd Street which is playing at Sadler's Wells ahead of a UK tour that is booking through until late October.

Nicole-Lily Baisden (centre) as Peggy Sawyer. Photo by Johan Persson. 

A love letter to theatre, the piece is a behind-the-scenes glimpse as director Julian Marsh is preparing for his latest show, Funny Lady, ahead of opening night. The key central figure is Peggy Sawyer, a young hopeful who turns up late to audition for the chorus but goes on a journey to become the star.

Sure the plot is paper thin but that doesn't mean the characters aren't fully fleshed out including the ensemble. The gritty reality of their struggle to make ends meet during the time of The Great Depression in America. Church achieves that superbly by showing that struggle whilst mixing it with the complete showbiz that the show is. 

Peggy Sawyer is played perfectly by Nicole-Lily Baisden, she enters as a shy unconfident dreamer hoping to join the chorus and blossoms from being a rabbit in the headlights, constantly messing up rehearsals to the point of injuring lead performer Dorothy Brock in the first act to becoming the star of the show. Baisden dances with precision, skill, and ease, her smile is bright evident in how much fun she is having throughout. 

Sam Lips delights as Billy Lawlor, not only does he make the movement look effortless, but he also brings a fantastic vocal performance. His solo section of 'I Only Have Eyes For You' is a stand-out musical moment in a show full of them. 

Adam Garcia impresses as director Julian Marsh, his drive and passion is clear that the show is the most important thing and anyone who steps out of line is out. Garcia cleverly captures that determination whilst also showing small glimpses of heart, any hints of attraction to Peggy remain platonic. Garcia is an accomplished dancer although we only get to see this at the curtain call.

The Company of 42nd Street. Photo by Johan Persson.

Ruthie Henshall gives a great turn as Dorothy Brock, her diva-like performance turns into something more sincere in the second act, Henshall sings the role tremendously with great feeling. Having seen a couple of previous productions of 42nd Street, Henshall was the first I've seen that made me feel anything towards the character.

Josefina Gabrielle has great fun as Maggie Jones, she is bright, comedic and dances as well as any around her. Les Dennis adds some larger-than-life expressions to Bert Barry including a wickedly silly number 'Shuffle Off To Buffalo'. Sarah-Marie Maxwell shows great flair as Anytime Annie, she's a real triple-threat and showcases, dance, singing and acting brilliantly. 

An excellent ensemble are light, bright and full of energy. Bill Deamer's choreography sizzles like an uncorked bottle of champagne, the fizzing dance is magnificently performed. The Busby Berkeley-style numbers are all show-stopping. The precision and synchronisation of the cast as not one step is out of place is frankly phenomenal. 

Robert Jones' set evokes both backstage and the Broadway stage with sublime lighting by Ben Cracknell and clear sound design by Ian Dickinson. The 1930s are evoked from the opening scene with Jon Driscoll's video design featuring footage of the period.

The orchestra under the musical direction of Jennifer Whyte breathes fresh life into the classic score. From the overture to the playout the orchestra is sublime. The show itself features a score including 'Lullaby of Broadway', 'We're In The Money' and 'Dames'

As the curtain falls on this production you leave feeling a boost in your step and wishing you could join the company in its tap-tastic movement. A sublime re-invention.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

42nd Street plays at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London until Sunday 2nd July before heading out on a tour which is booking until late October 2023. Tickets are available from

Adam Garcia as Julian Marsh. Photo by Johan Persson.

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