Thursday, 14 January 2016

Theatre Review: Guys and Dolls

It’s generally - and correctly - accepted that Guys and Dolls is one of the best musicals, if not the best musical, ever written.

It’s been around the block so many times and with so many distinguished actors, directors and producers in its various creative teams (I last saw the Michael Grandage directed version in the mid naughties) that it’s always exciting when it comes back into town.

And there’s a particularly exciting new version in town right now. Produced by Chichester Festival Theatre - which is exciting enough on its own; it’s difficult to think of a more consistently excellent producer of musicals in British theatre (or indeed anywhere else) at the moment - this version has a killer cast, a superstar choreographer and the unenviable task of living up to CFT’s last West End transfer, the super smash that was Gypsy.

Image source.

If anyone involved is feeling the weight of Gypsy on their shoulders then it doesn't show. And nor should it, because Guys and Dolls is a triumph in its own right.

Telling the story of the various travails of two professional gamblers and their love interests, the score of Guys and Dolls is a particularly beautiful embarrassment of riches. Some of the best known and best loved songs in the musical theatre repertoire have their home in this show, including the quite literally show stopping Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat which, honestly, if you don’t love then you’re an idiot. It’s hard to go too far wrong with a musical production when this is your raw material and this production certainly doesn't - everything about the music, from the vocals to the orchestration, is immaculate.

Speaking of immaculate, let’s talk choreography. The dance numbers in this production are simply stunning. This is due in no small part I'm sure to the presence of one Carlos Acosta in the creative team as co-choreographer (with Andrew Wright). Yes, *that* Carlos Acosta. And his influence is clear to see in the beautiful, sweeping, ballet-tinged numbers. The Luck Be A Lady sequence is a particular highlight; stunning, physically demanding (three cheers for the ensemble who deal with it magnificently) choreography teamed with innovative lighting and one of the best songs in musical history. It’s impossible not to be swept away. Unless you’re, like, dead inside or something.

The cast, too, is top drawer. David Haig is a great choice for Nathan Detroit; witty, warm, slightly inept and with a surprisingly (I don’t know why I find it surprising) pleasing singing voice. Sophie Thompson (the superior of the Thompson sisters for my money) captures the underlying sadness of Miss Adelaide whilst losing none of the humour in the character. Jamie Parker and Siubhan Harrison are pleasingly slick and naive respectively and make for a plausible, touching and funny couple. Harrison in particular has an absolutely stunning voice too. Gavin Spokes is the lucky man who gets to play Nicely Nicely Johnson (AKA the best part) and thus belt out Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, which he does with fantastic energy, suitable swagger and fewer encores than he’s probably entitled to.

I'm trying very hard to find something to complain about with this production but, honestly, there’s nothing. I love this show and I adore this production and, really, you should just go and see it. It’s funny, technically excellent and utterly joyous. And let’s face it, the way 2016 is going so far we could all use a bit of extra joy in our lives.

Guys and Dolls is at the Savoy until 12th March, after which the production (though presumably not all of the cast thanks to a certain Cursed Child…) will tour.

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