Arts

St Agnes' Choral Society bring classic musical 42nd Street to Belfast

It's a true classic currently starring Lulu in London's West End, but fans of 42nd Street will also be blown away by the upcoming production at Belfast's Grand Opera House. Gail Bell meets some of the cast and crew from the award-winning St Agnes' Choral Society

Billy and Peggy get their dancing shoes on for St Agnes' Choral Society's production of 42nd Street

MUCH-loved musical 42nd Street may currently be wowing audiences in the West End, but theatre fans will also be able to catch the all-singing, all-tap dancing Broadway show when it opens in Belfast later this month.

The award-winning St Agnes' Choral Society, one of Northern Ireland's oldest amateur dramatic companies, is marking its 60 anniversary in style with the staging of what has been described as the 'mother of all musicals' at Belfast's Grand Opera House.

Nominated for three Olivier Awards including Best Musical Revival and featuring well known numbers such as 42nd Street, We're In The Money and Lullaby of Broadway, the show boasts a lavish US touring set and even more lavish West End costumes (as worn by Catherine Zeta-Jones) to add an authentic touch of 1930s glamour to the local production.

Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes and the famous 1933 Hollywood film adaptation, 42nd Street follows a trusty show-within-a-show formula, charting the rise of chorus-girl-turned-star with a hint of romance, betrayal and a few diva laughs thrown in.

Young Peggy Sawyer is fresh off the bus from small-town America. She's just another face in the chorus line of Broadway’s newest show, Pretty Lady, when Peggy lands an unexpected shot at stardom after leading lady Dorothy Brock gets injured.

But don't worry if the storyline is a little predictable, this show is all about the dancing – extra tappers were auditioned by St Agnes' Choral Society and will tread the boards in an ear-popping chorus, along with principals Lorraine Jackson Brown (Peggy), Gareth McGreevy (Billy), Michelle Hannaway (Dorothy Brock) and John Lindop (Julian Marsh).

The musical director is Wilson Shields and the dancers have been put through their paces by dance teacher and choreographer Ann Marie Morgan from Newry.

Actor and chairman of the company Gareth McGreevy says 42nd Street is a perfect fit and ideal choice to mark the society's 60th birthday milestone.

"It is quite unusual that a local company could perform a title in a venue such as the Grand Opera House while it simultaneously runs in the West End, but we were delighted to have been granted the rights for the show from New York." Gareth says.

"When I was cast in the role of Billy Lawlor I was excited, but extremely apprehensive, as I knew the amount of tap dancing involved in this show.

"To say the role has been a challenge would be an understatement, but I think that when people come to see the show they will be surprised at what has been achieved by our company and in such a short space of time."

Well known for its wide range of talent, the St Agnes cast includes veteran performer Peter Burke, whose role as Bert Barry marks his 42nd performance with the company.

And, proving age is no barrier to treading the boards, St Agnes president, Kevin McKavangah, who celebrated his 80th birthday last November, is also part of the ensemble cast – while Regent House Grammar student Adam Vaughan is one of the talented tappers.

Playing diva Dorothy Brock – a role recently taken over by real-life superstar Lulu in the West End production – is Michelle Hannaway from Crumlin.

A former BBC Radio 2 Choir Girl of the Year who has been a member of St Agnes' Choral Society for 15 years, Michelle has sung professionally throughout Ireland and Britain and is a previous winner of the Belfast Classical Music Bursary and the Enkalon Foundation Music Artist Award.

Meanwhile, musical theatre stalwart Lorraine Jackson Brown steps ably into the shoes of Peggy, having been dancing since early childhood.

The Banbridge woman has performed in lead roles with several companies in Northern Ireland and was nominated for a NODA Award for her portrayal of Annie in Banbridge Musical Society’s, Annie Get Your Gun.

"The role of Peggy Sawyer lies very close to my heart – it's my story, it's just like me – and to have the opportunity to play such an amazing role in my all-time favourite theatre is a dream come true," she says.

"It has been really hard work and one of the biggest challenges of my life, but I have given it everything I've got.

"Tap dancing has always been my favourite type of dance, so to have the opportunity to sing, act and tap dance in such an amazing show is unbelievable."

The person pulling it all together, Lisburn teacher-turned director Laura Kerr, is delighted with the standard achieved by those on stage and behind the scenes. She says the show is "as close to the West End version as you're going to get".

Laura, who has also been busy lately with her school production of Mary Poppins at Pond Primary School, says fans of 42nd Street won't be disappointed.

"There's no doubt, 42nd Street is a big dance show, but my challenge has been to ensure that the story is well told too," she says.

"We have created a real theatre within the theatre and we have pulled out all the stops with the singing and the dancing, as well as the dialogue, costumes and set.

"We even have the famous staircase for the finale; I'm confident that people in the audience will be blown away."

:: 42nd Street runs from April 10 to 14 at Belfast's Grand Opera House. Tickets on sale now via GOH.co.uk

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