Guys and Dolls
Guys and Dolls is often touted as a classic, regularly featuring in lists of the greatest musicals of all time. Richard Eyre’s celebrated West End production is usually discussed in reverential tones, whereas the dud Broadway revival in 2009 was seen as the theatrical equivalent of missing an open goal.
Luckily, this Savoy Theatre transfer from Chichester is much closer to the former, bringing to life the comedy and sweetness that makes the Swerling, Burrows and Loesser collaboration so highly regarded. The characters are generally well sculpted and the play’s multiple jokes and twists are mined to their full potential.
General shyster and nogoodnik Nathan Detroit is running out of options for the location of his hotly awaited craps game. Needing $1,000 to book a venue, Nathan bets cool cat Sky Masterson that Sky cannot get virtuous missionary Sarah to go to Havana on a date. Despite some resistance, Sky seals a date as long as he brings a group of his lowlife friends into her mission. Meanwhile, Nathan’s fiancée of many years, Adelaide, keeps badgering him to go legit and marry her.
Whilst some parts of the story could easily feel a bit dated (Sarah’s noble ‘Save a Soul mission’ probably gave up hope years ago), this production shows that the story has lost none of its original verve and charm. One of the liveliest audiences I have encountered for some time roared at every joke and was in raptures by the end of the show.
Frank Loesser’s score and lyrics are still divine; nearly every song is a bone fide classic and the music is in safe hands thanks to Gareth Valentine’s musical direction and Larry Blank’s orchestration. It seems to have been given a brassier makeover, which works brilliantly, making the Havana scene seem even more debauched and serving to ramp up the tension during the excellently staged Luck Be a Lady.
Jamie Parker is show stealing as the dapper Sky Masterson, a character who needs to be impeccably suave and charming and yet also show a tinge of vulnerability and loneliness. Parker seems to channel the spirit of Sinatra with his crooning voice and he makes his Sky both likeable and believable. It has been a great mystery why Parker has not had a higher profile considering his stellar track record; with his recent casting as Harry Potter in The Cursed Child this is deservedly set to change.
Sophie Thompson’s performance as Miss Adelaide has divided opinion but I grew to love it, as did the crowd, who gave her the biggest ovation of the night. It is not a characterisation that can be accused of understatement – her Adelaide is hyperactive and hysterical and she delivers her comic lines with a deadly sense of timing and physical comedy. However, I hope her understudies are well primed as her uber-gravelly accent must play havoc with her vocal cords!
David Haig is probably the best in Britain at playing hangdog downtrodden men and so he was a perfect casting choice for Nathan Detroit. His Nathan is more affable than most but his performance is none the poorer for that; it was great to see an old pro having such fun on stage. Siubahn Harrison’s Sarah was well acted but her voice seemed to lack the strength needed during some of her numbers.
Away from the leads, the most impressive performances were found in the enjoyable double act of Gavin Spokes (Nicely Nicely Johnson) and Ian Hughes (Benny Southstreet). They had brilliant chemistry and their scenes together were always great fun; their clownish rendition of the show’s titular number was one of the evening’s many highlights. Nic Greenshields was also very amusing as the terrifying Big Jule, who has some of the script’s funniest lines.
What puts the show ahead of many similar revivals was the strength of the choreography, a blistering collaboration from Andrew Wright and Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta. Guys and Dolls offers the luxury of several extended instrumentals and they are brilliantly used for some electrifying choreography; it seems you can see Acosta’s influence in the Havana dance sequence, which fizzes with Latin energy.
My favourite examples included both the sublime and the ridiculous. The balletic choreography for the decisive crap game in the sewers was riveting and perfectly executed. Contrastingly, the deliberately harsh and coarse moves given to the Hotbox showgirls were hilarious, especially during A Bushel and a Peck.
Iwan Harries’ costumes strike the right tone, classy and bright without being too lurid. The set from Peter McKintosh is serviceable and purposely sleek, given the fact that the show (and stage) will soon be going on the road as part of a UK tour.
During a cold and drizzly January, this new revival of Guys and Dolls offers a much-needed tonic of energy, happiness and fun. It is a show that is guaranteed to leave you smiling or humming the infectious score – catch it while you can!
IT HAS JUST BEEN ANNOUNCED THAT GUYS AND DOLLS WILL TRANSFER TO THE PHOENIX THEATRE.