Friday, 22 January 2016

Guys and Dolls

Classic songs and broad smiles combine with wit and warmth in this hugely entertaining production

Written by Richard Barber
Richard-Barber-colour-176You wouldn’t have to be a betting man to wager that Guys And Dolls, set in New York’s demimonde of gambling and goodtime girls in the Prohibition era, would feature in most people’s top five greatest musicals of all time. So this new production, a transfer from Chichester into the very same theatre recently vacated by another Chichester transfer, Gypsy, arrives with a following wind and an audience willing it to succeed even before the lights dim.

It doesn’t disappoint. But then Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics combine with a script by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows to produce a marriage made in heaven, almost every song an enduring classic, each of them integral to the plot and all awash with wit and warmth by turn.

It’s marriage, of course, that’s the institution that underpins the narrative drive. Showgirl Miss Adelaide has been engaged to small-time illegal dice player Nathan Detroit for 14 years, a situation that has induced a psychosomatic and ongoing cold. Smoothie Sky Masterson, meanwhile, is never going to be tied down by a dame, no siree; that is, until he sets eyes on the apparently uptight Sarah Brown, an officer in the Salvation Army dedicated to saving the souls of Broadway’s dodgy denizens.

Well, you know the rest. The dancing, co-choreographed by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, is fabulous, especially in the famous scene set in a Havana nightclub. The supporting cast contains not one weak link, with Ian Hughes and Gavin Spokes outstanding as Benny and Nicely-Nicely respectively.

But it’s the lead quartet on whom much depends. Siubhan Harrison certainly looks the part as Sarah, although her singing doesn’t quite match Jamie Parker’s rich tenor as Sky. Likeable David Haig is hard to resist, even if he might be a bit too gentle sometimes for Nathan. But Sophie Thompson carries all before her, raising the biggest laughs of the evening and lighting up the stage with her funny, touching portrayal of the perpetual fiancée, Miss Adelaide.

Comparisons, I know, are odious, but I saw Richard Eyre’s iconoclastic revival at the National in 1982 with Julie Covington, Ian Charleson, Bob Hoskins and Julia McKenzie as Sarah, Sky, Nathan and Adelaide, and while I loved this fresh look at a favourite musical, it didn’t quite match that production in terms of snap and crackle. But it’s a great evening out, you bet your bottom dollar. 

Until 12 March at the Savoy Theatre, Strand, London WC2: 0844-871 7687,
National tour details:

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