Book: Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, from Damon Runyon’s short stories
Music and Lyrics: Frank Loesser
Director: Gordon Greenberg
Marry the Man Today may not seem the sort of sentiment to be accepted lightly by a theatre-going audience in 2016, especially given the blatant shortcomings of the potential grooms. Hitching up with low-life crap shooters Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson could only end in disaster, we suspect; Miss Adelaide and Sister Sarah far better off either ploughing an eternally single furrow or capitalising on their newfound friendship and moving in together.
Nevertheless, such is the alchemy of rousing music and timeless storytelling in this Chichester Festival Theatre touring production of Guys and Dolls, that it’s all too easy to invest in these two central love affairs. Rolling dice takes on the moral purpose of saving Sister Sarah’s mission house in central New York, while Nathan’s marriage to Miss Adelaide would at least make an honest woman of her as far as her mother is concerned.
It’s heady, escapist stuff; taking us back to a New York that never really existed, encapsulated in Peter McKintosh’s set of rainbow advertising hoardings and a mission house distorted into the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Maxwell Caulfield’s Nathan Detroit is suitably downbeat and put upon, as he searches for a venue for his illegal floating crap game, pursued by the long arm of the law and harangued by a motley assortment of low-life gamblers on the one hand and his long-suffering fiancée Miss Adelaide on the other.
Charismatic gambler Sky Masterson, the role taken by Marlon Brando in the 1950s classic film, is played here by Richard Fleeshman; convincingly suave and charming with a surprisingly rich voice, especially in the lower register. It’s unfortunate, then, that his diction is occasionally muffled in the songs, especially as initial problems in balancing the sound in the beginning of the show are otherwise quickly ironed out.
There’s no such issue with the two female leads; Anna O’Byrne soars vocally as the pious Save-a-Soul mission sergeant, Sarah Brown, her soprano silvery clear and pure in I’ll Know and I’ve Never Been in Love Before. Meanwhile, Louise Dearman must be giving her London show counterpart Rebel Wilson a run for her money as Hot Box dancer Miss Adelaide, comically persistent in her determination to get Nathan to the altar, wistfully endearing in her rendition of Adelaide’s Lament.
The leads are supported by a strong ensemble, live orchestra and dazzling choreography from Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, with the scenes in Havana an electric riot of colour. The fast moving Luck Be a Lady recreates all the atmospheric lighting and echoing sound of the sewers, while full roof-raising justice is done to the iconic Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat.
Guys and Dolls has long been venerated as one of the greatest musicals of all time; many still refer to the National Theatre’s legendary 1982 revival under Richard Eyre. While this production might not be quite up there with the all-time classics, it’s still captivating and fizzing with energy, well worth catching as it nears the end of its tour.
Runs until 16 July 2016 |Image: Anna O’Byrne