42nd Street (First Complete Recording) | Review
Monday, February 27, 2023
Most interesting for 42nd Street fanatics, there’s the little-heard ‘I Know Now’, a lament for Dorothy and Billy which didn’t even appear on the original cast recording
The ultimate backstage musical, 42nd Street began as a novel in 1932, then became a Hollywood movie the following year, and a Tony Award-winning stage show in 1980. Featuring chorus lines of talented tap dancers, all desperate to make their show work in the midst of the Great Depression, it has chimed with audiences in good times and bad: a major West End revival in 2017 was a mammoth hit, and 42nd Street returns in June 2023 at Leicester Curve and Sadler’s Wells. We just can’t resist those dancing feet.
Nor can I resist the glorious score from Harry Warren and Al Dubin, or the showbiz book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble (sample lyric: ‘You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!’). But this recording marks the first time we’ve been gifted the 42nd Street production in its entirety, including songs, scenes and even tap numbers. Assembled in London and New York in 1996, featuring Broadway and West End company members, it’s collector’s gold.
Cathy Wydner and Michael Gruber’s delivery of the dialogue may sound mannered to our modern ears, but their singing is charming
From the overture onwards, the National Symphony Orchestra lends beautifully textured voice to Philip J Lang’s lush orchestrations. Then it’s on to the first of many indelible songs, ‘Young And Healthy’, as juvenile performer Billy aids the nervous ingenue Peggy Sawyer, who has come to audition for Julian Marsh’s new show. Cathy Wydner and Michael Gruber’s delivery of the dialogue may sound mannered to our modern ears, but their singing is charming.
Marti Stevens is simply fabulous as the demanding diva Dorothy Brock, purring her way through numbers like ‘You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me’, and Jamie Ross is appropriately intimidating as Marsh. Throughout, the sound is clear as a bell, losing some of the atmosphere of a live show, but letting us catch every detail.
‘We’re In The Money’, ‘Lullaby Of Broadway’, the mighty title number: there just isn’t a bum note in here. Most interesting for 42nd Street fanatics, there’s also the little-heard ‘I Know Now’, a lament for Dorothy and Billy, which didn’t even appear on the original cast recording. And while it might seem bizarre to feature just the sound of tap dancing, it’s such a key element of the show, and is so well captured here, with crisp percussive articulation, that it completes a dynamite package.
Harry Warren music Al Dubin lyrics Michael Stewart, Mark Bramble book
Cast Marti Stevens, Michael Gruber, Kim Criswell, Caroline O’Connor, Jan Horvath, Laurie Gayle Stephenson, Art Ostrin, Jamie Ross, Cathy Wydner; National Symphony Orchestra / Craig Barna