Guys and Dolls continues at the Phoenix Theatre, London until 30 October.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Frank Loesser’s iconic musical, reckoned by some to be the greatest of them all, is not only back in town after its nine-week run at the Savoy – it’s all over the place with a touring version of the Chichester Festival production hitting Edinburgh this weekend.
Apart from five significant cast changes in the move from Savoy to Phoenix, what is particularly interesting is the way it’s being marketed with no fewer than FOUR matinees a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday) but no Monday or Tuesday evenings.
Dark Mondays are nothing new -– they’re the norm on Broadway – but Sunday matinees replacing the Tuesday evening slot… is this the future for West End theatre in preview?
Clearly matinees at the Savoy did better box office business than some of the evening shows because they upped the afternoon quota there from two to three as the short run there continued. This is going one step further.
It is only three months since our Savoy reviewer gave Guys and Dolls five stars and while, for me, it is not quite in the same class as the Chichester’s Gypsy, this Broadway fable of gambling lowlife based on characters created by Damon Runyon (book by Abe Burrows) is still a wonderfully witty and tuneful night out.
One great song follows another and there’s some electrifying choreography in the Havana scene and an almost balletic quality to the subterranean craps game in the Manhattan sewers.
As for the cast changes, little Samantha Spiro is an adorable Miss Adelaide, catching all the pathos and neediness of the Hot Box chanteuse who’s waited 14 years to get hitched to Nathan Detroit and even ‘invented’ a marriage and five kids in that period to keep mum happy.
This is a more traditional rendering of the role than Sophie Thompson’s Marmite effort at the Savoy which seemed to upset almost as many people as it pleased.
Broadway veteran Richard Kind, taking over from David Haig, gets all the hangdog humour out of frustrated crapshoot organiser Nathan and the pairing of Oliver Tompsett, as flashy Sky Masterson, with Siubhan Harrison, as straitlaced but lovestruck Save-A-Soul Mission sergeant Sarah Brown, works well.
Harrison, the only survivor from the four main Savoy cast, is particularly good when she literally lets her hair down for the first time on discovering the attraction of Bacardi in Cuba and her duet with Tompsett – ‘I’ve Never Been in Love Before’ – is a lovely closer to Act I.
Jamie Parker, a hugely successful Sky at the Savoy, is a hard act to follow. As expected, Tompsett sings Sky beautifully, but I didn’t feel he quite got the suave swagger of the highest roller and most successful gambler in town during the early scenes.
He is more at home later on when it comes to the vulnerability and humility of the role. A work in progress.
Other cast changes see Billy Boyle coming in for Neil McCaul – an Irish accent for a Scottish one – as loveable Mission veteran Arvide Abernathy and Jason Pennycooke replacing Ian Hughes as Nicely-Nicely Johnson’s rubber-jointed sidekick Benny Southstreet.
Boyle draws all the emotion from his big number, the exquisite ‘More I Cannot Wish You’, while the chemistry between Pennycooke and Gavin Spokes’ reprised Nicely-Nicely is a total joy.
It is Nicely-Nicely’s ‘Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ which has the audience begging for more – which he is delighted to give them over and over again – and sends them humming off into the night. What a showstopper this continues to be!
Gordon Greenberg directs a cast of 27, including a very lively ensemble and, under MD Gareth Valentine’s drive, the 11-piece orchestra extracts every ounce from Loesser’s magical score. Choreography by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright is exceptional. Nobody’s rocking this boat.