The appeal of the showbiz musical, in all its sentimental backstage glory, is partly do with the fact that you know each and every one of the real life teeth n smiles chorus line has shed the exact same blood, sweat and tears as their fictional counterparts in the hope that they too may one day step out to be leading diva. It happened to a teenage Catherine Zeta Jones in the 1984 west end production of Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s stage version of Daryl Zanuck’s 1933 Broadway based movie, when life imitated art and a star was born. These days, alas, fame-hungry starlets are more likely to strut their stuff before Simon Cowell and several million TV viewers than earn their spurs the hard way on ‘out of town’ tours.
There’s something nostalgically pure, then, about Bramble’s own production, which, following in original director Gower Champion’s footsteps, never skimps on cast members giving it big licks on show-stoppers like Keep Young And Beautiful and We’re In The Money, even without recourse to Busby Berkely style trickery. Yet, for all this likeable yarn of little Peggy Sawyer’s rise through the ranks courtesy of the leading lady’s broken ankle and Dave Willetts’ grizzled director Julian Marsh’s soft heart, it somehow lacks the pzazz required to make it the special show it should be.
This isn’t the fault of Graeme Henderson’s choreography, nor of Jessica Punch’s charming ingénue routine as Peggy. Somehow it simply looks too squeezed in to ever fully take flight. Despite such reservations, the title number dazzles in a show that seems to have lost the thing that every chorus girl needs to survive; hunger.
The Herald, May 31st 2007