Preview: 42nd Street, Edinburgh Playhouse

Marti Webb in 42nd street
Marti Webb in 42nd street
Have your say

AS New York battles back to full health after its visit from superstorm Sandy, the Playhouse bring a little bit of Broadway to the Capital next week, when veteran musical theatre favourite Marti Webb walks 42nd Street with Dave Willetts.

Based on the 1933 film of the same name, itself based on a novel by Bradford Ropes, 42nd Street tells the story of small town Peggy Sawyer’s rise from chorus line to Broadway star.

We join the action as famed dictatorial director Julian Marsh (Willetts) determines to mount a stage production of a musical extravaganza, despite being at the height of the Great Depression. But who will be his lead lady?

Enter Webb, as washed-up star Dorothy Brock, a past-her-prime prima donna, renowned for her inability to dance. It’s a role Webb first saw performed on Broadway “quite a few years ago.”

“I saw this show on Broadway in the 42nd Street theatre, would you believe. It was on there and you just have to see 42nd Street in the 42nd Street theatre. It’s just one of those things.

“I enjoyed it so much and discovered the character wasn’t what I thought she was, there was more to her. I thought ‘this is really quite a nice part’.

“Then when the chance came up, I said, ‘I’d love to play Dorothy Brock’ and, of course, we have Mark Bramble, who co-wrote the piece and directed it on Broadway, directing this one too. So, it was a done deal really.”

Winner of the 1980 Tony Award for Best New Musical and the 2001 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, 42nd Street features some of the best loved songs in the history of musical theatre, including Lullaby of Broadway, We’re in the Money and Keep Young and Beautiful, along with a number of spectacular dance routines.

Unlike her character, Webb reveals she can dance.

“To sing those songs... they are just beautiful songs, it’s just a joy to do. And I love watching the cast tap dance. I do have a dance in the wings myself every night as, unlike my character, I can dance.

“My little feet itch a lot and the cast all laugh at me tap-dancing in the wings.”

42nd Street brings Webb back to the Playhouse, a theatre she has played many times, including the 1982 production of Song and Dance, in which she starred with Wayne Sleep.

“Although the Playhouse is so big, it is an intimate theatre because the circle seems quite close,” she says fondly.

Dorothy Brock is just the latest in an impressive list of leading roles the 67-year-old has tackled in her career, roles such as Nancy in Oliver!, Eva Perón in Evita, Grizabella in Cats, Miss Hannigan in Annie and Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers.

“You have to be choosey and do things that are right for you,” she says. “But it’s really about whether people ask you in the first place. It’s very nice to be choosey but in this day and age it’s nice to be asked.”

Needless to say, there are still many roles she would like to be asked to play.

“There are thousands of them but I never say what they are because I always think that tempts fate.”

And as we finish our conversation, thoughts turn back to the real-life 42nd Street on Broadway.

“I’m sure they’ll get back up and running very fast,” says the star. “I was there during the famous 1977 blackout and it was incredible how quickly they got every thing together. I’m sure they’ll do the same now.”

42nd Street, Playhouse, Greenside Place, Tuesday-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinee 2.30pm), £15-£45, 0844-871 3014