running until 12 March
Guys and Dolls transfers to the Phoenix Theatre from 19 March – 30 October
Another transfer from the juggernaut that is the Chichester Festival Theatre, hot on the heels of the critically-acclaimed Gypsy, Guys and Dolls arrived in the West End to some strangely mixed reviews. Many comparisons were made to the Richard Eyre’s landmark National Theatre production, and I feel glad I wasn’t around to see that if it marred the experience of director Gordon Greenberg’s revival.
Frank Loesser’s score is one my favourites in musical theatre, and Gareth Valentine’s orchestra perfectly does it justice, with bright brassy tones and sparkling excitement throughout. It’s one of those musicals where you forget quite how many great songs there are: from the much-loved ‘Luck Be A Lady’ and ‘Adelaide’s Lament’, to comedy numbers such as ‘Take Back Your Mink’ and ‘Marry The Man Today’, and gorgeous duets like ‘I’ll Know’ and ‘I’ve Never Been In Love Before’. All are delivered with panache by a talented cast, and it’s hard to pick out the top moments. However, title number ‘Guys and Dolls’ is performed with particular wit and joy by Giovanni Spanó as Nicely-Nicely Johnson (the understudy, but you’d never know) and Ian Hughes as Benny Southstreet, while old favourite ‘Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat’ virtually brings the show to a standstill with its three encores – a barnstorming performance by Spanó and Lorna Gayle (General Cartwright).
Choreography is created jointly by Andrew Wright and Carlos Acosta, and the latter’s influence is clear in the Havana scenes, where Selina Hamilton’s dancing burns up the stage with its fire and sass. It’s in these passages that Siobhan Harrison (Sarah Brown) also shows off her comedy chops, as her unintended intoxication creates lots of laughs. Sophie Thompson as Miss Adelaide also provokes many a chortle from the audience, who lapped up her physical comedy as the endlessly frustrated long-term fiancée. However, while her ‘Adelaide’s Lament’, ‘Take Back Your Mink’ and ‘Marry The Man Today’ are a delight, her over-the-top acting began to grate on me by the end of the performance. There is a fine line between hysterical and cringeworthy, and for me Thompson falls over onto the wrong side of this line too many times. Having said that, she has some genuinely touching moments too – and she looks flippin’ fantastic.
Thompson is reunited with her Four Weddings and a Funeral co-star David Haig as the long-suffering Nathan Detroit – desperate for money, desperate for a place to hold his craps game, and desperate for another excuse to put off his long-awaited wedding. Haig is a rather ageing Nathan, but he pulls off the comedic frustration well and delivers his musical numbers with natural charisma and swing, if less natural dance moves. Stealing the show, however, is both the talented ensemble (whose exuberant dancing is matched only by Peter McKintosh’s gorgeous and colourful design) and the brilliant Jamie Parker as bad boy gambler and old school charmer Sky Masterson. In a similar way to his role as Mike Connor in High Society, Parker perfectly suits the era and the cheeky swagger of the part; his voice is as smooth as Sinatra’s, his musicality faultless and his charm undeniable. It’s a triumphant return to musical theatre and proves his credentials as a leading man of the London stage.
With a UK tour continuing until next year, and a West End transfer to the Phoenix already in the bag, Guys and Dolls is clearly proving a hit with audiences. This production fizzes along with boundless energy, and can’t fail to put a smile in your face – a joyous musical that is an ideal antidote to the dreary grey skies of a London winter.
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