Writers: Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Music and Lyrics: Frank Loesser
Director: Gordon Greenberg
Reviewer: James Garrington
When a show elicits an audible gasp of admiration from the audience just 30 seconds in, you know that it’s going to be something special. From that moment on, Guys and Dolls doesn’t disappoint.
The Chichester Festival Theatre has produced some outstanding shows over the years, and this production is the latest. Guys and Dolls takes us to the 1950s and creates a world of gamblers and their girls, of Salvation Army Missions and their attempts to reform the unsavoury characters who inhabit Broadway at night. If that sounds like heavy stuff, of course it isn’t – for these are almost comic-book characters, in the original Damon Runyon stories on which the show is based, brought to life by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows who wrote the book for the show, and Frank Loesser’s glorious score, which is packed full of well-known numbers
Big musicals such as this often rely on spectacle to make an impact, and spectacle is certainly not in short supply here. Peter McKintosh’s set, wonderfully lit by Tim Mitchell, hits the audience right between the eyes – before the cast even appear – to kick off proceedings with an exuberantly choreographed, high energy danced version of the Overture and Runyonland opening. The choreography is one of the stunning elements of this show, with the honours here being shared between Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, very safe hands indeed and superb choices for a show set in New York and Havana. The best choreographic ideas in the world are no use without the cast, though, and they throw themselves into it with gusto.
It’s not all spectacle though. The show depicts some very real emotions too, and needs a cast who can bring that humanity to comic-book characters – and the quartet at the heart of this production do just that. Sophie Thompson gives Miss Adelaide a good sense of perpetual optimism despite the constant disappointment that she can never quite set aside, and delivers a lovely poignant version of the often just comic Adelaide’s Lament. She shows a good sense of comedy, as does David Haig as her long-standing fiancé Nathan Detroit, a man desperately trying to continue making money from gambling and avoiding marriage – despite Adelaide’s wish that he do just the opposite.
Siubhan Harrison is a pleasingly vulnerable Sister Sarah, desperately trying to bury her emotions as she is determined not to fall for gambler Sky Masterson (Jamie Parker). Harrison has a beautiful voice and provides a gentle contrast to the gaudy brashness around her, with a determined I’ll Know, a convincingly drunk If I Were a Bell and a beautifully tender I’ve Never Been in Love Before with Parker as Sky. Between them, they deliver a masterclass in the art of acting through song. Parker, too is in good voiceand performs with a suitably hard shell masking the soft interior that he can’t quite contain.
Strong support is provided by the remainder of the cast, with some good moments from Gavin Spokes (Nicely-Nicely) and Ian Hughes (Benny). Spokes, in particular,gives a memorable and exuberant Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat complete with a scat section, ably performed by Lorna Gayle (General Cartwright) alongside Spokes.
With some bright new musical arrangements courtesy of Musical Director Gareth Valentine, and orchestrator Larry Blank, this feel-good show sizzles and sparkles from start to finish. Director Gordon Greenberg has found the perfect balance between spectacle and characterisation, brashness and tenderness.
Guys and Dolls is bright and colourful, comic and poignant, and sheer theatrical joy.
Runs until 5 December 2015 | Image: Johan Persson