FOR a big show you need a big voice – and for a generation Marti Webb has been supplying the tonsils for some of the world’s most lavish productions.
So there’s no surprise she’s managing to muster plenty of enthusiasm for a big budget tour of 42nd Street during a break from rehearsal on a rainy day in a Welsh seaside town.
“We’re up to our eyes in text the day before the first preview,” she says on the phone from Rhyl. “I’m in very wet Wales – but at least our dressing rooms face the sea.”
And sharing that view is fellow West End veteran Dave Willetts (Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables and South Pacific) and Sheffield-born James O’Connell, who takes the lead role of Billy Lawler after his previous stint in the Crucible’s triumphant Me & My Girl.
From Tuesday until Saturday the Lyceum hosts a 42nd Street directed by the show’s co-author and Broadway director Mark Bramble.
And that spells dazzling sets and glamorous costumes, which has Marti excited. “These are mainly the American sets and costumes, which are absolutely amazing. It is a learning curve, listening to the orchestrations.
“It’s the most amazing show and the music is fantastic, songs everybody knows. They’re so talented our company. They sing, they dance, they act. The girls are so beautiful.”
The former star of Blood Brothers, Cats, Evita and more is also keen to be back in Sheffield for the first time since Oklahoma played to full Lyceum houses in 2010.
“I’ve been to the Lyceum in loads of things. I’m quite used to it now,” she says. “It’s nice when you know somewhere because you know where to get food, to go shopping or whatever.
“And I have the same digs. They’re lovely digs so why change them? There’s a network rather than the list the theatre supplies – all your friends who have been touring. If it’s nice you tell people.
“We try to stay quite close to the theatre in case there are any transport strikes. We need to be able to get there easily, seeing as that is what we are there for, so it’s nice to walk in if you can.”
The 13th longest-running show on Broadway, 42nd Street tells the story of an old-time Broadway show amid the 1930s Depression and is best remembered for classic songs We’re in The Money and Keep Young And Beautiful from the lyrical pen of Harry Warren and Al Dubin.
There seems to be barely a musical Marti’s not been in, but Dorothy Brock is a new character for her.
“This is a completely new experience. I didn’t know it was going to look like this,” she enthuses.
“Dorothy’s a star and in 1933 they were prima donnas. They had to be so nobody would have a go at them. You don’t attack a star – they have strata. People definitely knew their place in 1933, a completely different world in some ways. People knew their space, you never got that close to people.
“But this is very relevant to today, with the Depression. Everyone is desperate for jobs.
“In this I’m a star of long standing and my sugar daddy is putting up the $100,000 to put the show on. The sub plot is that Dorothy has a love of her own she keeps to herself because she doesn’t want to upset the show, so the show can go on.
“People will be truly entertained. Sit there and enjoy. It’s lovely to look at and listen to. People will come out with smiles on their faces, I hope.
“In the Depression shows pulled people through.
“It’s what entertainment does, so people don’t have to think about the awful things going on in their lives. It lifts them.”
And, no, I’m not much like diva Dorothy, says Lyceum regular
AMID the razzamatazz, legendary musical 42nd Street is the inspiring tale of small town Peggy Sawyer’s rise from chorus line to stardom.
Caught up in the drama and delight of 1930s showbusiness, she débuts in latest musical Pretty Lady, but her journey is fraught with backstage intrigue and inflated egos as she deals with the show’s diva and a notorious director.
That diva is Dorothy Brock, but Marti Webb says she is far from being like her character in real-life.
“You had to be a diva in those days. You would demand certain things. If you let people in too much they might take you for granted.
“I was brought up slightly differently, I think.
“I worked with people who were never prima donnas.
“The first real star I worked with was Anthony Newley. It was never ‘Mr Newley Sir’. We always used that but it was a joke to him, he was so helpful and nice.
“Then Tommy Steele, John Mills and Judi Dench, lovely people, not starry and diva-ish. I can’t say many of the people I’ve worked with have acted like that, but in Hollywood today there must be people like that because it’s the name of the game.
“In 42nd Street, if this show doesn’t work, we don’t work. We all need a job but we’re much more relaxed and we’re workers – we just get on with it.
“But it’s quite fun to play someone like Dorothy.
“I’m quite grand when I come in.
“There’s really three sides to her and she shouts a lot.”
Needless to say, Marti is pleased to be getting her voice around some of musical theatre’s most cherished numbers and to watch other cast members tap dance.
“I never thought this show would come up so when it did I was thrilled.
“Also having the original director and co-writer doing it with us, Mark Bramble, he keeps telling us stories about how they conceived it, why that happened, why that song was in.
“He knows it so well, it’s a real boost for the show – you’re getting the genuine American show – but God help us if we get a word wrong.”