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A CurtainUp London Review
Guys and Dolls
What is curious about this production coming into the Savoy Theatre for a few months, from Chichester via Bath and before a UK tour, is its casting of principally actors in the lead roles and not those famous for musical theatre. David Haig, a wonderful character actor plays Nathan Lane, the chap who under threat from the mob is trying to find premises for an illegal crap game. I have seen Haig sing before as Mr Banks in Mary Poppins but the main reason for casting him is for his hapless charm rather than his singing voice. Jamie Parker, soon to be the grown up Harry Potter on stage, sang in both the Chocolate Factory's Assassins and High Society at the Old Vic, another show peopled by those known principally for their acting talent. As Sky Masterson, Parker doesn't have that instant sex appeal nor a voice to die for. Siubhan Harrison as the Salvationist Sarah, has more musical experience in From Here to Eternity, Les Mis and We Will Rock You. Emma Thompson's sister, Sophie has the very difficult role of Adelaide, difficult because of the strong accent and the need to be a natural comedienne.
So if you have a fine musical ear you may not take to this production. However there are many pluses. I simply adored the set of a semicircle of light bulb lit period, advertising hoardings, reflected in the shiny black floor to make an exciting circle, 360 degrees of set surround. Well done Peter McKintosh! His costumes too were delightful, men in snappy suits with matching hats and sharp shoes with spats. The women too were finely dressed, especially for Adelaide's dance numbers and in the dance scene set in Havana.
Although I found the Hot Box women's scenes a tad underwhelming, choreographers Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright come into their own in the male dance scenes with leggy jumps and exciting choreography. Maybe they spent the budget on dancers? But this was very worthwhile and money well spent.
In Cuba, the nightclub scene where Sarah is given alcohol by Sky felt dangerous as she would have been unable to defend herself and I definitely felt she was in harm's way. Although he rescued her from the denizens of Havana, I did not believe for a moment in Sky Masterson's later conversion to the Salvation Army.
A mention should be made of Big Jule (Nic Greenshields) for his sinisterly tall mob presence. "Luck Be a Lady" is a brilliant song with the dancers echoing the throwing dice moves of the crap game. I half expected in the sewer scene to meet Jen Valjean carrying Marius!
So did I enjoy the show and can I recommend it? Yes indeed. I came out of the Savoy Theatre onto the Strand feeling that I had seen a really good show with some iffy singing in places but I could hear every word of the lyrics. The star of the night for me was Gavin Stokes, as Nicely-Nicely Johnson who from his very first number "Fugue for Tinhorns" to the show stopping "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat" is musical heaven. I see too that the first production I saw of Guys and Dolls at the National won the brilliant Clive Rowe, a Best Supporting Actor Olivier for his portrayal of Nicely-Nicely.
For Simon Saltzman's review of Guys and Dolls in New York in 2009, the complete plot and song list, and Elyse Sommer's backgrounder on Damon Runyon, go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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