Guys and Dolls continues at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, London until 15 July.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
You could transport this student production lock, stock and barrel a couple of miles to the West End, charge £65 for an uncomfortable seat instead of a fraction of that for a lovely one in the Guildhall’s own super-smart theatre next to the Barbican, and nobody would be complaining.
It’s a throbbing crackerjack of a show from start to finish – and no wonder as this seat of learning doesn’t exactly stint itself on creatives.
We’ve got Bill Deamer, Olivier Award winner for Top Hat, doing the choreography; Martin Connor, with a string of credits including the currently touring The Sound of Music, again directing (his Grand Hotel last summer was a stunner too); Michael Haslam in charge of a superbly-drilled 21-piece orchestra, and Adam Wiltshire with a set design for which there aren’t enough superlatives.
On top of that, one of the best-loved musicals of all time with a string of wonderful Frank Loesser numbers and a script (book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows) that faithfully captured the New York vernacular of short-story genius Damon Runyon’s colourful low-life characters like Harry the Horse, Angie the Ox and Nick the Greek.
How could these final-year graduates go wrong in this glorious musical fable of Broadway, the crap-shooters and the Sally Ally soul-savers, the totally improbable love story of a flamboyant gambler whisking a prim Bible puncher away to Havana for dinner. And one great song after another.
The inevitable problem of performers looking too young in some instances, and having a trim-waisted Nicely-Nicely Johnson crop up when all the ones I’ve seen have been, shall we say, well upholstered, doesn’t in any way impinge on the fun in this triple-threat triumph. From the delightfully in-period Hot Box Dolls to the four leads, there isn’t a weak link in sight.
Dance routines are spectacular, accents spot-on, Katrina McKeever, as Nathan Detroit’s ever-loving Miss Adelaide, has ‘star’ writ large over everything she does, Luke Dale is a suave and persuasive Sky Masterson with an easy-to-listen-to voice and Rebecca Lee sings beautifully in the less-showy Sarah Brown role.
Also noted: Oscar Batterham makes a wonderfully shifty Nathan, forever trying to find a site for his illegal game one step ahead of the law; Alexander Knox, as Nicely-Nicely, revels in his big number ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’; and Edward Sayer (Arvide) does a lovely job on ‘More I Cannot Wish You’. What a pity Loesser didn’t write another solo for him.
But, for many, the star turn is Sam Gillett as gravel-voiced gangster Big Jule who wipes all the numbers off his own dice but is able to recall them perfectly when the big money goes down.
Total madness, of course, but they loved it on Broadway for 1,200 performances after it opened to rave reviews in 1950, they loved it for 555 more when it came to London in ’53, and they loved it all over again in this luminously sparkling revival.
But the ‘sold out’ signs are up for the remainder of the run. Detroit’s game has been rumbled.