The Theatreguide.London Review
Savoy Theatre Winter 2016; Phoenix Theatre Spring 2016 -
[Reviewed first at the Savoy January 2016. Scroll down for a review of the new cast at the Phoenix.]
January 2016: Guys And Dolls is one of the truly great – and thoroughly enjoyable – Broadway musicals of all time, and this revival transferred from Chichester features several fine performances and one particularly excellent one.
But most of what will give you an entertaining evening will come from the show itself and not what this production adds to it.
Damon Runyan was an early 20th century humorist who wrote a string of short stories about the small-time gamblers, showgirls, street people and other inhabitants of a mythical land called Times Square.
Abe Burrows fashioned a script out of them (A second writer, Jo Swerling, contractually got co-author credit for a first draft that was never used) and Frank Loesser provided the songs.
As everyone is probably born already knowing, there are two parallel plot lines. Nathan Detroit runs a crap game while keeping showgirl Adelaide, his fiancee of 14 years, at bay, while gambler Sky Masterson loses a bet and has to court Salvation Army lassie Sarah.
Will Nathan find a place for the crap game? Will Adelaide get him to the altar? Will Sky and Sarah fall for each other? And along the way will we hear such pop classics as Luck Be A Lady, Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat, I've Never Been In Love Before and the title song?
Does Times Square light up at night? Great song comes after great song almost without pause, and the plot bits in between are clever, witty and delightfully absurd.
The best thing about this production is Jamie Parker's performance as Sky Masterson. In past productions the Skys have generally been rather wooden – it's more a singing role than an acting or comic one – but Parker brings unexpected warmth and depth to the character.
More than any Sky I've ever seen he acts the songs, finding fresh colours and emotional nuances to the lyrics, and you will hear things in My Time Of Day, I've Never Been In Love and even Luck Be A Lady you've never heard before.
As Sarah, Siubhan Harrison is as wooden as most previous Sarahs have been, but she sings beautifully, so all is forgiven. David Haig is a master of both the hangdog look and the slow burn, and his shtick fits Nathan perfectly, even if it doesn't stretch or strain him in the slightest. And Sophie Thompson dips into the tradition of broad female clowns that includes Fannie Brice, Gracie Fields and Lucille Ball as Adelaide.
And that, I fear, is about all the praise I have to offer this production.
Gordon Greenberg's direction is generally no more than adequate, dipping into uninspired or misguided.
As Nathan's cronies Benny and Nicely, Ian Hughes and Gavin Spokes have been directed ot do their musical numbers as vaudeville set pieces, paying not even minimal lip service to the minimal demands of musical comedy 'realism'.
So the Fugue For Tinhorns and the title song, rather than setting and sustaining the comic setting, seem to have wandered in from some other show.
The choreography by Carlos Acosta (presumably the Cuban number) and Andrew Wright never catches fire and is too often cluttered. Adelaide's numbers at the Hot Box – Bushel and A Peck and Take Back Your Mink – rely far too much on the easy gag of the chorus girls having trouble keeping in step.
And when one of the absolute, top pantheon, guaranteed to get the audience on their feet demanding encores showstoppers of all time, Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat, gets polite applause, something has really gone wrong.
(Part of it is that director Greenberg and musical supervisor Gareth Valentine evidently didn't trust the material, and gild an already perfect lily with irrelevant and distracting scat singing.)
Jamie Parker is absolutely first-rate and the other three stars are very fine. But beyond them, all the fun you'll have – and it will be considerable – must be credited to Damon Runyan, Abe Burrows and Frank Loesser.
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April 2016: With a transfer from a limited run at the Savoy Theatre to an open-ended one at the Phoenix and significant cast changes, this revival of the classic Broadway musical has actually improved.
I still have a few grumbles, but can now recommend it with far fewer reservations than before.
It is unusual for a replacement cast to be better than the originals, but with three of the four leads in new hands, and the fourth considerably improved, Guys And Dolls is now more balanced and more consistently well acted and well sung than before.
To take them one by one, the one performance I admired in the original cast was Jamie Parker's Sky Masterson, particularly his success in finding new colours and freshness in the songs.
The new Sky, Oliver Tompsett, carries that ability even further, acting each song with a naturalness that makes the character seem to be thinking the thoughts and finding the words for the first time.
And more than any other Sky I've seen, Tompsett inhabits the same reality as the other characters, moving and speaking like the other gamblers rather than (as is too often the case) seeming to stand above and apart from them.
Richard Kind is a comic character actor you've seen in dozens of American films and sitcoms. His specialisation is the hulking but amiable dimwit, and his repertoire of acting shtick – the hangdog look, the appearance of slow thinking, the double-takes – turns out to work very nicely (or, as one of the characters would say, Nicely-nicely) for Nathan Detroit.
Samantha Spiro brings unflagging comic energy and more than a hint of Barbara Windsor's innocent sexiness to the perpetual fiancee Adelaide, very much to the show's benefit.
In her hands A Person Can Develop A Cold comes close to stopping the show, and she goes a long way to perking up the still-poorly-directed Hot Box numbers, turning Take Back Your Mink into a wicked Marlene Dietrich take-off.
The one holdover, Siubhan Harrison as Sarah, has livened up considerably since I first saw her back in January.
Sarah is the most underwritten of the four roles, giving the performer little to do but sing prettily, but Harrison now lets us see early on the ordinary girl inside the missionary uniform, so we can enjoy and celebrate her loosening up and falling in love.
The dances are all still cluttered and unimpressive, and Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat – a number that in the right hands defines the term Showstopper – is still not the overpowering delight it should be.
But at least until the next cast change, this is a Guys And Dolls as close to ideal as one could hope for.
Review - Guys And Dolls - Savoy and Phoenix Theatres 2016