Music &Lyrics: Frank Loesser
Book: Abe Burrows &Jo Swerling
Director: Gordon Greenberg
Reviewer: Charlie Senate
The Olivier Award nominated West End revival of Loesser and Burrows’ much-loved Guys and Dolls has opened the second leg of its UK tour at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre with a new cast, and it sure seems like the entire city just rolled sevens.
This bigger-than-life, brighter-than-bright production, set against the flash-bulb flicker of a highly caricatured 1930s Broadway, feels right at home in what is arguably the North West’s own cultural mecca. Gordon Greenberg’s Guys and Dolls is both ample and slick – much like comic henchman Nicely-Nicely Johnson – and the show’s raft of celebrated tunes are here no life buoy, but are laudably rendered, with vigor and oomph, by a 12-strong pit band and a very talented troupe.
Peter McKintosh’s set is something quite wonderful. The expandable archway of blinking ads (in the shape of the New York skyline), perfectly apes the relative con of a “woild” where men in bright chequered suits go by names like Rusty Charlie and Harry the Horse. Each bulb-lined ad block has the look of a green room mirror: a subtle reminder that, in this stylised Broadway of Sky Masterson’s and Nathan Detroit’s, the Broadway of stage is never far away.
Tim Mitchell’s lighting design also deserves mention, a dazzling and intelligent affair that, along with the set, helps tie this production together.
The cast and ensemble, from top to bottom, are all very strong. Every character, even those peripheral, remains firmly entrenched in the world of the show; every number is performed commandingly, and nearly every routine is executed with energy and precision. Richard Fleeshman oozes charm as the impossibly-smooth Sky Masterson – and, as numbers like I’ll Know and I’ve Never Been in Love clearly showcase, he has a bit of the crooner in him. Anna O’Byrne gives us an endearing, easy-to-adore Sarah Brown, a naked soul without subterfuge or semblance of cruelty. Jack Edwards brings something special to Nicely-Nicely Johnson, a lightness of foot and conviviality that beautifully rounds out his character’s loveable cartoonishness. And then there is Louise Dearman as Miss Adelaide, who is so good, so thoroughly in medias res in her rendition, as to be to almost be taken for granted – as though, in the spirit of The Truman Show, the producers simply cast the “real” Adelaide and neglected to tell her about the audience.
But, laurels aside, the show does have its niggles. The opening 20minutes noticeably lag. At times, early on, things feel a bit like a wrestling match for the audience’s attention. The Empire is a notoriously difficult venue for sound design and, given that this is the first stop on the tour, a few technical “wrinkles” are to be expected. Still, when the opening number features three entwined, competing voices, clarity is key. A handful of later scenes also tend to drag, and the show’s resolution comes together far too quickly – though, of course, this is an issue with the book, a story-problem that has been with the show since its 1950s opening.
But, none of this clouds the overall merit of this production. From direction to design to performance, this is a Guys and Dolls that lives up to its reputation. The cast and crew et al are to be commended. Get your tickets while you still can.
Runs until 19 March 2016 | Image (previous cast) contributed