Last week the Theatre Royal Drury Lane played host to the press launch of its upcoming West End revival of 42nd Street which opens at the venue in March 2017. Returning to the original home of the London production, this new revival of the musical fable features Grammy Award-winning artist Sheena Easton making her West End debut in the role of Dorothy Brock and is directed by Mark Bramble, the show's co-author.
A staple of amateur theatre companies up and down the country, UK audiences are more than familiar with this classic 'star is born' tale, which sees understudy Peggy Sawyer thrown into the spotlight to take the lead in a brand new Julian Marsh musical comedy. This new revival promises to take a fresh look at the show, and will even feature a new number written especially for Easton's character to sing, titled "Boulevard of Broken Dreams".
Speaking about the nature of reviving such as popular show, director Mark Bramble commented that the production has to feel fresh for audiences: “When you do a revival, you need to shake it up, make it fresh" he explained. "I once saw a New York revival of the musical Mame, starring the original cast. It was so dreary and dull. I realised there is a lesson in this; you must never simply do again what you have done before."
Bramble has directed countless productions of 42nd Street around the world in Sydney, Shanghai, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Vienna, and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for the most recent Broadway revival of the show which ran at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts (now the Lyric Theatre) for 1524 performances between May 2001 and Jan 2005. Describing the differences between that iconic production, he stated that the London revival will have "a whole new look", stating that they're "presenting the show as an MGM Technicolor movie, there’s going to be colour splashing everywhere."
He continued to talk about the scale of the show, commenting that the production would feature "a cast of over 50, an orchestra of 20 and 600 costumes", adding an additional six dancers from the previous production. “At the moment, there are costumes being sewn in India, there are painters working on special costumes in Budapest, and there will be more beads, feathers and sequins than ever before. We’ve also added songs that have not been used in previous productions...This show features some of the greatest music ever written by American composers."
Sheena Easton spoke about returning to the stage, and being drawn back to musical theatre after an extended gap now her children are grown up:
"Once you've taken a role in theatre your whole life has to be about that show" she explained. "You're doing eight a week, you have to rest your voice, you have to stay fit and focused having two little kids that wasn't going to happen. I decided I wasn't going to commit to that until my kids were raised. I took my kids to Las Vegas, as you would do, and I did eight shows a week for two and a half years, performing at night whilst they were babies. When my kids got to an age where they didn't like mommy leaving, that's when I switched my life around to going on every weekend or every other weekend. When my kids were teenagers I almost stopped completely. Anyone who has raised teenagers knows you can't leave them alone for five minutes! There are only a few roles and a few shows that I'd consider changing my life for, and this is one."
Speaking about the role of Dorothy Bock she commented that is was a perfect role for a woman of her age, and she had always enjoyed both the show and the score:
"It's a great part for a woman of my age, there's not a great load of roles for 57 year old women! It's an iconic show, just to be apart of that. When I saw this show I saw Millie Martin and she blew me away, she was doing it in Los Angeles at the time and I thought it must be great to be in a production like that. There's definitely stuff I can relate to - I love the 'over-the-topness' that she gets to have fun but there's a truth to it as well."
Asked if there's a touch of the 'Diva' in the role, she confirmed that it was an aspect she's looking forward to bringing to life:
"My Dorothy on the page I liken it to 'All About Eve', her insecurity - she's playing these roles and is insecure. I see from the older woman's perspective that she sees the future coming hard and she's not apart of that. I think Dorothy is fronting, there's a vulnerability on the inside that is masked. It's a well written role and I love the songs. I think that the role that Dorothy is playing in life is her expected to be a diva. Especially in the time frame it was set in, you couldn't be a female star and be understated. There was no such thing as a star who blended into the wallpaper and I think that's something she manufactured."
Set in the 1930s, Bramble commented that the show continues to feel fresh and original for audiences, citing the core themes of the musical that continue to resonate today: “It’s the theme of the show...it’s the idea that if you dare to believe, if you work hard enough and have enough talent, you can do anything you want. The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, is the most wonderful theatre in the entire world."
42nd Street opens for previews at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 20 March 2017.