Music and Lyrics: Frank Loesser
Book: Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Director: Stephen Mear
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Frank Loesser’s musical, based on the stories and characters created by Damon Runyon, is officially subtitled “a musical fable of Broadway”.
And with its portrayal of a New York criminal underbelly where the worst crime is to hold an illegal dice game verging on fairytale, it most assuredly is in fable territory. But it is fabulous in the word’s other meaning, too. Nearly every number the show has to offer has become a standard of the musical theatre canon, from the comedy of Adelaide’s Lament and the old-time Vaudevillian A Bushel and a Peck, to If I Were a Bell, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat and, of course, Luck be a Lady.
So when it comes to a semi-staged concert performance at the Royal Albert Hall, Guys and Dolls already has a musical advantage. Throw in the sound of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra (under the conductorship of musical director James McKeown) and a high quality of performance would be guaranteed regardless of the vocal talent.
But what talent. The commitment to just three performances allowed producers Fiery Angel to secure some top-flight names for the cast. From Sharon D Clarke and Paul Nicholas as the elder statespeople of the Salvation Army that hopes to save the souls of Broadway’s gambling sinners, to Clive Rowe (reprising the role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson for which he won an Olivier Award in 1997 as part of the National Theatre’s revival) the supporting cast comprise musical theatre royalty.
Leading the central romantic couple at the heart of the story, Adrian Lester cuts an impressive figure as Sky Masterson, the gambler whose reputation for betting on anything leads to him seducing missionary Sarah Brown (Lara Pulver) and flying her to Havana for the night.
Pulver brings an effervescence to Sarah, especially in the Cuba-set scenes as her character inadvertently gets more and more drunk. Together Pulver and Lester complement each other well, as one would expect veterans of musical theatre to do.
It is with the show’s other couple that the producers have stretched themselves a little. Not necessarily with Nathan Detroit – for the loveable rogue, stand-up comedian and musical theatre performer Jason Manford has the right pedigree, if not the experience of the Olivier winners with whom she shares the bill.
But casting Australian cabaret artiste Meow Meow as his eternal fiancée, the scatterbrained Miss Adelaide, is an unorthodox choice – but a perfect one. There are layers of innocence to her saucy routines at the Hot Box club, delivered with a larger-than-life charisma that fills the Royal Albert Hall all on its own.
Director Stephen Mear is well known, of course, as a choreographer – and brings his reputation to bear here. Most notable of his excellent routines is his interpretation of the Crapshooters’ Ballet in Act II, a balletic rendition of men being men while gambling away their money.
Short of a fully-staged revival (unlikely any time soon after Chichester Theatre’s West End 2016 transfer) then a concert spectacular such as this must surely be the best way to enjoy Loesser’s crowning achievement as a musical composer.
Reviewed on October 20 2018 | Image: Roy Tan