Sunday 15 May 2016

Guys and Dolls - Review

Phoenix Theatre, London


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

The Guys from Guys and Dolls

The current London cast of Gordon Greenberg's Chichester production of Guys and Dolls, recently moved across town to the Phoenix Theatre, is a delight. This company's polished excellence give a delightful treatment of Frank Loesser's words and tunes, themselves a carefully crafted tribute to Damon Runyon's Broadway fables.

The move to the Phoenix itself was an an improbable 12-7, the London production having been planned to leave the Savoy and continue its tour around the UK. It was only upon seeing the warmth of the capital's reception that canny producers opted for the tour to spawn a continued London residency, before hitting the road.

There is an irresistible loveliness around these four leads. Over from America, Richard Kind is a wonderfully lugubrious Nathan Detroit. Kind nails the old promoter's romantic ineptitude as he struggles to find a home for his floating crap game. Beautifully expressive, in a suit that's deliberately cut just a size too large, there's a generous measure of a recognisable everyman in Kind’s comic creation.

Also new to the show is Samantha Spiro's Miss Adelaide. Spiro is all five of New York's boroughs rolled into one - and the shtick that she evolves with Kind is comedy gold. If her vocals may not be the finest, her acting through song is off the scale, including a revelatory nuance to Marry The Man Today (and this from a critic who's loved the show for 35 years). Elsewhere, Spiro’s Take Back Your Mink, all Marlene Dietrich for the first couple of verses before she Hollanderizes her voice into a magnificent Broadway belt for the closing stanzas, is a very guilty pleasure.

Siubhan Harrison is the only lead to have remained from the Savoy and like London’s springtime her Sarah Brown has blossomed magnificently. Of the story's leads, it is only Brown and Sky Masterson who truly evolve through the show discovering both each other and love. Harrison convinces with a touching poignancy as she struggles to resist Sky's charms, along with a glorious set of pipes. Back in Chichester, Clare Foster set Sergeant Sarah's bar very high and it is a joy to report that Siubhan Harrison's tambourine bashing mission doll more than rises to the occasion.

The final newcomer to the romantic quartet is Oliver Tompsett's mellifluous Masterson. Tompsett not only sounds perfect, he looks the part too (his cocked-trilby poise reminding me wistfully of 1982's Ian Charleson at the National). Cool yet ultimately crumbly, with Tompsett it’s all about the voice and the man is a treat to watch and listen to.

It's the lightly sketched details to Loesser's supporting ensemble, those citizens of his Runyonland that add the magic to a great Guys and Dolls and this company doesn't disappoint. Gavin Spokes' Nicely Nicely Johnson convinces as a sweaty water-buffalo in Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat, alongside Jason Pennycooke who delights as an ingeniously created Benny Southstreet.

The diminutive Cornelius Clarke offers up a pugnacious Harry The Horse, sitting well alongside an outsized (and perfectly cast understudy) Cameron Johnson as Big Jule, the Chicago mobster. And as it’s currently the season to celebrate under-recognised understudies, a nod too to Lavinia Fitzpatrick whose dancing as the Diva gave a fabulous contribution to the Cuba routine.

Andrew Wright's choreography alongside Carlos Acosta remains a highlight with both Cuba and the Crapshooters' Ballet pieces continue to offer flair and spectacle. In the pit, Gareth Valentine's work on the new orchestrations brings added sparkle to some wonderful Songbook stalwarts.

Guys and Dolls works best when it doesn't take itself too seriously - and it is truly the mark of an in-form company that a packed theatre can laugh at even the most modest of Loesser's gags. Chemistry? Hell yeah, chemistry! An un-ashamedly romantic, comic-book sketch of New York’s low-life, Guys and Dolls is a perfect evening's entertainment.

Booking to 30th October

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