Guys and Dolls is based on a set of quirkily written stories by Damon Runyon between 1930 & 1945. Over the show’s 66-year history it has played on a variety of stages, but it is currently resident in the Savoy Theatre on the Strand.
Gordon Greenberg’s production of this classic musical began life at the Chichester Festival, has had a limited run at the Savoy, and will make a move over to the Phoenix Theatre in a few weeks’ time.
It has an immediate impact as you settle in your seat and look at the stage. The set design is vivid & ingenious: a backdrop of period advertising hoardings illuminated in bright colours. With other sets including the Hot Box club and the Save-a-Soul Mission, Peter McKintosh has created a memorable world in which it’s impossible not to lose yourself. The costumes are things of beauty, especially some pretty sharp suits on the male cast, and flamboyant designs set aside for Havana.
Carlos Acosta & Andrew Wright’s choreography completes the visual treat. It’s dynamic & fun, and really brings the world to life. Quite often you hear people in the dance world mention ‘story-telling’, and perhaps wonder what they’re talking about – this choreography will clear up any confusion. My highlight was a routine to an instrumental version of ‘Luck Be A Lady’, when the crap game moved down into the sewers.
But it’s not just about what you can see. Jo Swerling & Abe Burrows’ book remains as vibrant & funny today as I’m sure it was when the show first played. And Frank Loesser has given us some classic songs over the years, so why should this show’s collection be any different? Probably the two most well-known of these are ‘Luck Be A Lady’ and ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat’ – they both lived up to my expectations, the latter earning several rapturous rounds of applause that threatened to delay the show’s end! Adelaide’s laments are hilarious; full of fun wordplay, set to a catchy tune.
The entire ensemble is brilliantly talented, and clearly committed to this wonderful production. Gavin Spokes as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, the main recipient of all that applause, has a great voice and works well alongside Ian Hughes as Benny Southstreet. Nic Greenshields puts in a brilliant comic performance as big-time gambler Big Jule.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the four main stars that provide the most memorable turns.
Sarah Brown leads the local mission; Siubhan Harrison is wonderful at playing the initially prim & uptight missionary, whose life is changed when she meets Sky Masterson (Jamie Parker). Parker is charismatic & confident as the master gambler – also looking surprisingly good in a pinny later on…
David Haig puts his comedy chops to good use in the role of Nathan Detroit, who runs the local crap game and has somehow hung onto fiancée of 14 years, Miss Adelaide.
Sophie Thompson gives the best, and definitely my favourite, performance of 2016 as Miss Adelaide. She is utterly captivating from the very first time we meet her, and certainly steals every scene she’s in – even when being carried off to the drugstore! There are moments where you really do feel for her, but ultimately Miss Adelaide is there to keep the audience entertained, and Thompson does this with consummate ease.
My verdict? A technicolour dream of a production that will have you tapping your feet and grinning from ear to ear; a must-see.
Guys and Dolls runs at the Savoy Theatre until 12 March 2016. Tickets are available online or from the box office. You can also buy tickets for the Phoenix Theatre, opening on 19 March 2016. A national tour begins in Liverpool on 16 March 2016.