19th December, 2015, matinee
Following on from the successful run of their outstanding production of Gypsy, the Savoy plays host to another of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s slew of world-class musicals. While Guys and Dolls does not quite reach the dazzling heights of Gypsy, this production is slick, classy and thoroughly enjoyable.
Based upon Damon Runyon’s Broadway stories, Loesser, Swerling and Burrows’ musical fable of New York gamblers, Christian missionaries, indecent proposals and commitment issues is grounded within an era of post-war escapist theatre – tonally it reminded me a little of The Pajama Game from around the same period (and another recent-ish CFT West End transfer) – and with subsequent revivals plays upon the nostalgia of Broadway’s golden age. This is echoed in Peter McKintosh’s set comprised of vintage adverts cut and pasted onto the New York skyline, a kind of whimsical, pop culture-led view of a dark period in history, reflecting the rose-tinted plot which places the musical’s motive firmly in the ‘hearty entertainment’ camp as opposed to focussing on thematic portent. While I had a few niggles about the book – the ending especially seems a little rushed, it would have been nice to see a proper reunion between Sky and Sarah for example - Gordon Greenberg’s production is smooth and sophisticated, filled with flashy dance routines, likable characterisations, and some excellent show-stopping numbers.
Andrew Wright’s routines, co-choreographed with Carlos Acosta (yes, really!), are pure Broadway - newsboys pirouette across the stage and the Act 2 ‘Crapshooters Dance’ is witty and knowing. The entire sewer sequence, including the infinitely cool ‘Luck Be a Lady’, segueing into the rapturous ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ is pure theatrical joy and worth the ticket price alone. Of the cast, Jamie Parker shines (he must be the hardest working actor in theatre right now – and as seen in his latest casting announcement, he’s onto BIG things!), getting to showcase his rich voice in a more showy fashion than his role in Assassins last year allowed. His Sky Masterson has a charisma and easy charm which exemplifies why Parker is in such great demand of late, and his transition into musical theatre proves him to be one of the best, multi-talented actors in the West End right now. Also impressive is David Haig’s assured performance as the marriage-phobic Nathan Detroit; he makes for a rather affable scoundrel, displaying a well-honed chemistry with Sophie Thompson’s long-suffering Adelaide. Thompson’s ability to emote without straying into sentimentality, and her naturally endearing quality ensure that, while toeing the line between comedy and exaggerated caricature, Adelaide is always sympathetic and likable. Completed by Siubhan Harrison’s icy yet spirited Sarah, the production is led by a quad of classy performances, ensuring the audience is invested in the central love stories.
Greenberg’s production is a real treat for fans of musical theatre. I sat with a big grin on my face for the whole afternoon and came out of the auditorium humming my favourite tunes. So when a trip to the theatre is this joyous it’s not hard to see why Guys and Dolls has become such a classic and will continue to be so for a long while to come.
Guys and Dolls plays at the Savoy theatre until 12th March 2016. A national tour will follow – see the official website for dates and venues.