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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Guys and Dolls
Piccadilly Theatre 2005-2007

What with songs by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and based on a story by Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls is a hard show to do badly.

There may be some, however, who feel this particular production is not quite up to scratch. On the other hand, the rest of us may view it as, if not quite classic, at least as being a success that is true to its vision.

The potential problems lie in the fact that the creative team here have opted for a stripped-down concept by not emphasizing either set or the big numbers, perhaps with an  eye on touring. Instead they have concentrated on the story and the characters, making it almost play-like.

And for me it works - after all, there are few musicals that have a story to tell with such energy. Certainly the earthy street atmosphere comes across vividly in the hands of director Michael Grandage, as the petty hoodlums of forties New York meet their match in the ladies of the local Salvation Army, while the orchestra, under Jae Alexander, punches its way through like a tight speakeasy swing band.

Ewan McGregor is a sensitive Sky Masterson, a witty, sexy maverick gangster with a conscience, a little too cuddly even. Vocally he avoids the ubiquitous West End warble and his soaring, clear tones make even well-worn numbers like Luck Be A Lady thrill as if you're hearing them for the first time.

Unsurprisingly, the stage proverbially lights up every time Jane Krakowski appears. There's a certain something that only seasoned Broadway performers have, and Krakowski has more than her fair share of it. Her  Miss Adelaide is no mere gangster's moll but a delicious encapsulation of the neuroses and stresses brought on by modern urban living, and her sneezy, snuffly Adelaide's Lament deservedly pulls at both the heartstrings and laughter muscles.

In a perfect world McGregor and Krakowski's characters should have been paired off with each other. That would make for a sizzling, memorable, classic night. Because what seriously lets things down is the miscasting of Douglas Hodge as Nathan Detroit and Jenna Russell as Sarah Brown. Neither is to blame since both give performances that technically and emotionally give their all, but it's not enough.

Hodge is simply too straight for us to believe that his intended, Miss Adelaide, would even sneeze at him let alone suffer a decade waiting for him to lead her up the aisle - there's little of the raffish rake about him. And though Russell's clear as a bell voice gets you tingling with songs such as If I Were A Bell and her duet with Sky, I'll Know, she is simply not believable as the Sally Army ice maiden who wins Sky's heart.

Although this isn't a "big" show, the two set pieces of Act II more than compensate. Choreographer Rob Ashford has The Crapshooters' Dance/Luck Be A Lady played like a dark ballet, part Gene Kelly, part Brecht, while Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat sees Martyn Ellis's Nicely Nicely Johnson leading the company energetically through the jive-gospel number - deservedly he brings the house down.

Nick Awde

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Review - Guys and Dolls - Piccadilly 2005