Piccadilly Theatre, London SW1
Opened 1 June, 2005

For my money, Guys And Dolls is the greatest of the classic stage musicals.  It’s big fun without veering wildly into camp; it’s romantic and hard-edged at once, with no room for slop; and it doesn’t have any nuns or Nazis, just guys in sharp suits shooting craps.  All of which is fortunate, because if the show itself didn’t contain several million volts of pizzazz, this revival of it would seldom be more than tepid.

Do you remember Down With Love, the musical pastiche of Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies that Ewan McGregor starred in? No? Well, that’s my point, really.  McGregor is handsome enough to play Sky Masterson, the gambler suckered into a bet that he can take a Salvation Army sergeant on a date to Havana. But he lacks the sheer magnetism Sky needs.  Likewise his singing voice: it’s OK, but without a mike it would be nowhere.

This version of the tale of lovable New York lowlifes – gamblers and chorus girls – has some really shaky accents.  Jane Krakowski as Miss Adelaide even jettisons the mandatory Brooklyn twang; when she didn’t protest that she’s not “one of those goils”, I felt cheated.  Douglas Hodge plays Adelaide’s long-standing fiancé Nathan Detroit as so goofy, and with such a wandering accent, he recalls Bernard Bresslaw.

Michael Grandage’s direction and Rob Ashford’s choreography feel excessively sedate: little electricity or dramatic tension. Even the scene changes are too unhurried, blocking the natural flow.  The principal scene-stealer is petite Sévan Stephan as Chicago mobster Big Jule; for once, “Big” is sarcastic!  And the big show-stopping number, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat”, does indeed stop the show, albeit briefly.

It’s obviously unfair to compare this show to the Brando/Sinatra movie. Some viewers may also recall the National Theatre production of 1982 and 1996, which by all accounts was breathtaking.  But it’s not a matter of comparing this staging of it to other versions, just measuring it against what the show is capable of and what it ought to attain.  It’s perfectly agreeable, but Guys And Dolls can and should be so much better.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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