Friday 22 August 2014

Guys and Dolls - Review

Chichester Festival Theatre


Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directed by Gordon Greenberg

Sophie Thompson and Clare Foster

Chichester's newly re-launched Festival Theatre hosts its first musical with a sparkling revival of Frank Loesser’s musical fable of Broadway, Guys and Dolls. A show built around New York’s everyman and everywoman, Kenneth Tynan described Guys and Dolls on its 1953 London opening as the Beggar’s Opera of Broadway. 29 years later, at London’s National Theatre, Richard Eyre defined the work in a stellar, seminal production that paved the way for Broadway musicals to occupy a deserved place in the subsidised theatre repertoire. Now, some 30 years on from that revelatory South Bank production, American wunderkind Gordon Greenberg revives this tightest of tales of gamblers, lovers and the sheer confounding beauty of the human condition.

Based on Damon Runyon’s short story The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown, the book charts 24 hours in four of the unlikeliest of New York’s star crossed lovers. Clare Foster is Sarah Brown, a missionary who is to yield (albeit with the assistance of copious quantities of Cuban Dulche De Leche) to the wickedly chiselled refinement of Jamie Parker’s incorrigible gambler Sky Masterson. Elsewhere on Broadway Miss Adelaide, a 40-something night-club singing broad, played with sardonic hilarity by Sophie Thompson bewails her 14 year engagement to the cutest of low-lifes, Nathan Detroit, famed for running the city’s finest floating crap game. Around these four gems, a cast of missionaries, homburged hoodlums and scantily clad Hot Box debutantes, all serve to paint a cosily familiar picture of the post-war USA.  

Jamie Parker and Peter Polycarpou

Peter Polycarpou is Detroit and it is a delight to see this stalwart of British musical theatre at last take on the mantle of a leading man to open a show. Squat and hen-pecked, Polycarpou captures the impossible ironies of Detroit’s life, with a voice and comic timing that are perfectly poised. His contribution to the three-part harmony The Oldest Established is flawless whilst as a hustler desperately seeking 1,000 bucks so he can rent a venue for his crap game, there are moments that suggest a reprisal of his Ali Hakim, also from the National from some years back.

Foster delights as Sarah, coaxing an intimacy from her post-Cuba duet with Sky, I’ve Never Been In Love Before, that was breathtaking, whilst Parker’s Luck Be A Lady was dreamily suave yet defined the passion behind his love for Sarah.

There is excellence throughout Greenberg’s company. Nick Wilton’s Harry The Horse was built for double-breasted pin stripes, Harry Morrison’s Nicely Nicely Johnson is every inch the water buffalo that his character should be, (even if the showstopping encore for Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat did seem just a tad pre-planned) whilst amongst the Hot Box ensemble, Anabel Kutay leads her dancing generation with a cameo as the Havana Diva that is jaw-dropping.

Peter McKintosh’s simple set design of classic posters of the era, each framed by marquee lights suggested a nod to John Gunter’s 1982 festival of advertising-neon. Alongside, Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright’s choreography opens up the trademark numbers with panache, whilst still allowing a spot of table dancing to be wafted into Take Back Your Mink. My only complaint: For such a shiny stage floor and so many wonderfully be-spatted Guys, where was the tap routine? When this show transfers to London (as it surely must) no doubt the Acosta/Wright team can rectify!

In our troubled world Guys and Dolls, this most frothy of fantasies, is a wonderfully whimsical tonic. It’s a place where, as Adelaide and Sarah dream of changing their men post-wedding and Sky Masterson’s mantra is that no matter how desirable, “no doll can take the place of aces back to back”, the story remains gloriously grounded amongst recognisable characters.

The show is selling out fast – and rightly so. The Festival Theatre audience rose as one to salute the cast (and luxuriously furnished 15-piece band) on press night. Musicals don't get better than this. 

Runs to 21st September 2014
Photos by Johan Person

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