Musical review: 42nd Street

The famous Broadway musical, full of show-stopping numbers, was given a marvellous production by the musical theatre students at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University.

The 1980s Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical 42 nd Street is one of the all-time great Broadway shows. Set in depression-era America, it is a joyous rags-to-riches story that goes to the heart of the American dream.

Peggy Sawyer, a young star-struck performer from Pennsylvania, arrives in New York City to try to make good on Broadway. A talented dancer and singer, she is hired in the chorus of a new major musical, Pretty Lady, where the leading lady, Dorothy Brock, recognising Peggy’s talents, takes a strong dislike to her. When an accident rules Brock out of the show on opening night, young Peggy is persuaded to take over the lead role.  

This show is brim full of wonderful dance numbers, especially some demanding tap dancing for principals and ensemble, has a well-written book, and offers quality popular musical standards as well as famous songs. A high-energy show requiring a skilled cast of triple threat performers who can act, sing and dance, the Queensland Conservatorium – Griffith University (QCGU) music theatre students proved they were well up to the task. Third year students predominantly played the main roles, while many first and second-year students made up the ensemble.   

Director Alistair Smith, previously responsible for acclaimed productions of Les Misérables and Grease for QCGU, directed a fast-moving, slick production with strong attention to detail bringing his characters to life. With over 60 students on stage for the big dance and song numbers, he created excellent stage pictures, especially in the tap-dancing finales and curtain calls.

Directing smaller ensemble groups in a number of atmospherically-lit configurations, Smith used his minimal stage and production elements to great advantage. It was a well-crafted, visually interesting and strongly directed show. 

Andrea Zappacosta as Peggy Sawyer. Photo: Kenn Santos.

He was ably assisted by some spectacular choreography from Dan Venz, whose opening ensemble tap-dancing routine set the tone for the rest of the show. The tap dancing was absolutely top notch throughout with high-octane numbers such as ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ and ‘Forty-Second Street’ as well as Billy and Peggy’s ‘Young and Healthy’, the fabulous diner scene ‘Go into Your Dance’ and the popular ‘We’re in the Money’.

The choreography of other dances was equally as polished and well realised. It included glamorous production numbers; ‘You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me’ and the glitzy all-girl ‘Dames’. Musical direction by Heidi Loveland achieved a high vocal standard, giving us a cast that could sing as well as they acted and danced. Melissa Agnew’s voice and dialect coaching helped the students to deliver their American accents with crystal clear diction.  

For the most part Penny Challen’s simple set was designed around an open stage with excellent 1930s black and white film projections of New York as a back drop, and occasional set pieces and props including a dressing room truck, staircase and railway station. Additionally, a glorious Art Deco proscenium arch for the theatre scenes, plus a multi-coloured cardboard cut-out train for ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo’ added colour. The gloominess of the Depression era was offset by Challen’s vivid period costumes; colourful beach wear and umbrellas for example and two shades of pink negligees in ‘Dames’; stunning gold and silver costumes for dance scenes with the obligatory top hat and tails and glittery ballroom frocks.

It was well-lit with some atmospheric street scenes and impressively illuminated dance numbers from Keith Clark, while Steve Thornely achieved excellent on-stage sound quality.   

The Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra, under the firm and assured baton of conductor and Associate Professor Peter Morris, played impeccably. Predominantly a big band sound, consisting of brass instruments including saxophones, trumpets and trombones with woodwind, keyboards, timpani and percussion, the quality and delivery was of the highest standard.  Moreover, the orchestra seemed to have great fun playing the jazz music of the period.   

The cast were overwhelmingly first-rate with many stand out performances.  

As Peggy Sawyer, Andrea Zappacosta started life as a naïve young girl, gauche and unsure of herself, gradually gaining confidence as the show and her role progressed. She gave a finely nuanced and believable performance with her sweet soprano and excellent dance skills, looking every bit the part. As the young male lead, Hudson Glynn gave Billy Lawlor a swaggering assuredness, his strong dancing matched by a fine tenor voice. 

Lucy Goodrick made the most of the bitchy diva role of Dorothy Brock and looked perfect in some wonderful glittery outfits. She sang two of the standards, ‘You’re Getting to be Habit with Me’ and ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ with great feeling and commitment, demonstrating a softer personality. Aidan O Cleirigh, as the Broadway producer, Julian Marsh, was extremely well played, his older character role given gravitas and strength. His first-rate baritone voice delivered ‘The Lullaby of Broadway’ stunningly well. 

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The comic roles of the writers, Maggie Jones and Bert Barry, were well crafted and humorously played by Jacqui Dwyer and Jack Ingram respectively, Dwyer offering a finely crafted ‘In Four: Shadow Waltz’ and ‘Go into Your Dance’. Jack Ingram impressed in his comic rendition of ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo’ alongside the character of Ann Reilly, well played throughout by an animated Isabel Langton.

The supporting roles of Phyllis (Lara Salamacha) and Lorraine (Bianca Love) were well sung and danced. Rohan Treanor played and danced Marsh’s offsider and rehearsal director, Andy Lee, with panache, while Nicolas Van Litsenborgh and Jai Jackson played the respective love interests of Dorothy, Pat Denning and Abner Dillon, with suitable style and character. The ensemble was strong in both singing and dancing.  

All in all, this was one of the finest productions the musical theatre school has produced and was extremely well presented on every level. It could easily have been a professional production. With superb dancing, strong singing and some fine acting skills, this quality of work bodes well for this year’s graduating students who will soon take their place in the musical theatre profession.  

 42nd Street 
Queensland Conservatorium – Griffith University
Conservatorium Theatre, Brisbane
Music by Harry Warren   
Lyrics by Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer   
Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
Producer/Head of Performing Arts: Professor Paul Sabey
Director: Alister Smith
Musical Director: Heidi Loveland
Conductor: Associate Professor Peter Morris
Choreographer: Dan Venz
Associate Choreographer: Gabriella Boumford
Set and Costume Designer: Penny Challen
Lighting Designer: Keith Clark

Sound Designer: Steve Thornley
Voice/Dialect Coach: Dr Melissa Agnew

Cast: Andrea Zappacosta, Hudson Glynn, Lucy Goodrick, Aidan O Cleirigh, Jacqui Dwyer, Jack Ingram, Lara Salamacha, Bianca Love, Rohan Treanor, Nicolas Van Litsenborgh, Jai Jackson

42nd Street was performed until 13 August 2022.

Suzannah Conway is an experienced arts administrator, having been CEO of Opera Queensland, the Brisbane Riverfestival and the Centenary of Federation celebrations for Queensland. She is a freelance arts writer and has been writing reviews and articles for over 20 years, regularly reviewing classical music, opera and musical theatre in particular for The Australian and Limelight magazine as well as other journals Most recently she was Arts Hub's Brisbane-based Arts Feature Writer.