The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
The Shows Must Go On and YouTube December 2020
a professionally done recording of the 2017 London revival of the 1980
Broadway musical based on the classic 1933 Hollywood film that tells the
archetypal backstage fable of the chorus girl forced to go on for the
ailing star of a Broadway musical ('You're going out there a nobody. But
you've got to come back a star!')
show was great. The recording is not.
In 1980 director-choreographer Gower Champion understood that the key to a stage version was the sheer excitement of a stageful of people dancing, and that any single minute in the show that didn't involve a few dozen people tapping their hearts out had better have a good reason why. And Mark Bramble and Randy Skinner, respectively director and choreographer of this revival, understood that.
But through either total lack of imagination or some perversity, 'screen
director' Ross MacGibbon mis-shoots and actively sabotages every musical
me back up a bit. In 1980 the film's book was revised to do two things.
First, it allowed the addition of several other songs of the period by
Harry Warren and Al Dubin, making the score a treasure of classics, from
the title song through Lullaby Of Broadway, We're In The Money, Dames,
Shuffle Off To Buffalo and I Only Have Eyes For You.
And the role of the displaced diva was enlarged, giving her several songs, and softened, making her more sympathetic, to attract stars – on Broadway Tammy Grimes, in London 2017, Sheena Easton followed by Bonnie Langford (seen in this recording).
Langford has fun sending up her own image as a slightly-over-the-hill
star who can still deliver a big number, and the other major roles – Tom
Lister as the dedicated and dictatorial director of the
show-with-the-show, Philip Bertioli as the love interest and – this
cannot be exaggerated – the extraordinary collection of
singer-dancer-actors who make up the chorus, are all first-rate.
the show lives or dies with the chorine-turned-star. Although she gets
only third billing, Clare Halse is the engine that drives this show, and
as I said in my review HERE
in 2017, she is a dancing machine, thrilling to watch. Unfortunately, as
I wrote then, when she is not dancing she has about the same personality
as a machine and less sexiness.
brings us back to TV director Ross MacGibbon. MacGibbon declares his
total lack of sympathy with the material in the opening seconds, when he
cuts away from Gower Champion's coup de theatre of raising the
curtain less than a metre so all we see are 100-or-so tapdancing feet.
the curtain goes all the way up, instead of letting us revel in that
mass display of energy, MacGibbon keeps cutting to close-ups of faces or
shots of two or three chorus members at a time – and dancers' faces are
not what we want to see, and two or three people dancing are not the
same as forty or fifty.
one number Gower Champion called for a large tilted mirror that allowed
him to recreate Hollywood choreographer Busby Berkeley's signature trick
of moving his dancers to create kaleidoscope effects. MacGibbon just
sticks a camera above the stage looking down, getting the effect and
totally missing the fun of the inventiveness.
when it comes time for Clare Halse's big dance numbers, MacGibbon
repeatedly cuts away from her to look at individual chorus members or to
focus on someone else's feet. It isn't until the
post-curtain-calls finale that he pulls back and lets us see Clare Halse
showing what she can do.
On stage this production of 42nd Street was exciting and delightful and loads of fun. On screen it is not.
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