I am definitely on a musical kick at the moment. How can I not be, with random breaks of free time, tip money in my pocket, and the West End a mere 90 minute bus ride away? So far, this term alone, I’ve seen Les Mis twice, Billy Elliot, Chicago, Guys & Dolls, and last night I saw 42nd Street at the New Theatre in Oxford. Hopefully I can get myself to be productive enough over this Partnerless weekend to afford a last trip to Leicester Square (if so, I’m thinking Sweeney Todd).
My blog earlier today, in my opinion, didn’t really do Phantom of the Opera justice; chalk that up to a deadly combination of tiredness and low blood sugar and please accept my apologies. Having written a 2000 word essay yesterday, I’m a little burnt out today and writing my blog seemed more like a chore than anything else. But I promise to do as much justice to 42nd Street as I can!
Which is to say, not much? But I’ll get to that. Let’s first step back into Phantom so I can spill a few little, astonishing, tidbits.
Dan bought the program and while he had stepped out for a minute, I read the history of the show. I was floored to see that it was intended to be produced in the style of The Rocky Horror Picture Show! I’ve never seen it, but I have watched the Glee episode and am very familiar with the song “Time Warp” and the Los Angeles traditions of what you do at a screening. I’m sorry, but that just wouldn’t have done the original novel justice! (Yes, Phantom is based on a French novel, and yes I’ve read it and recommend it.) Though after learning that, I could actually hear some of the Rocky Horror influences in the music. So disappointing.
Okay so that was just one tidbit, but it felt like an important one.
As for 42nd Street it was produced for the first time in the 1980s, and it really felt like it. I am pretty sure I’ve done a dance to one of the songs (“Lullaby of Broadway” maybe?) so I kind of new the style of music. But I find it a little saddening when my favorite part about a production is the chorus. There was nothing special about the main characters, no gripping storyline to pull you in, no powerhouse that kept you on the edge of your seat. Maybe I’m a little spoiled from Les Mis and Wicked. But I think the problems with the production stem from its original script and book. It just doesn’t lend itself well to the 2010s’ culture. It was dated. Costumes were dated. Actors were dated. Audience was definitely dated.
Yet the chorus girls were great. I didn’t know that all the dancing in it was going to be tap (though it does explain my memories of that dance’s costume and yes it was a tap number), and it was good tap. So often you get a line of tappers and it just sounds like a terrible cacophony. Which may be why it has always been my least favorite style of dance. But here, everyone was really talented. Their sounds were crystal clear and on time! And there were easily 30 tappers all dancing at one time. I really wish my mom had been there with me, she would have loved the dancing. As it was, definitely my favorite part of the entire show. I found myself groaning whenever there was acting or singing, wishing I could go back to writing my paper, until the chorus came on and I paid rapt attention.
The other funny thing about the show was its storyline. It definitely was not an accurate portrayal of how people act in the entertainment industry. An entire chorus would not be clamoring for a brand new chorus girl to take over the lead role of a high profile Broadway play just so they could perform themselves! In truth, everyone would be cutthroat and after the lead role themselves. But I guess that makes for entertaining television right now in Smash but not appropriate for 1980s Broadway.
Oh and I find the storyline of the older, crotchety director in love with the clueless chorine ingenue kind of gross.
Random interesting factoid: Catherine Zeta-Jones got her start in musical theatre in the chorus of 42nd Street when she had to fill in the role of Peggy Sawyer after both the lead and the understudy became ill. Lucky her!