GUYS AND DOLLS, the 1950’s musical comedy with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, won 5 Tony Awards during its original production including best musical and also spawned the 1955 awards winning movie musical starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.
The classic tale involves a collection of New York City’s high society gamblers meeting for a popular dice game run by Nathan Detroit. The only trouble is, he can’t afford the $1000 deposit money for the game room, so tries his luck at betting the notorious player Sky Masterson, who can’t turn down a challenge. But Nathan wagers him to woo the icy-cold Save-A-Soul Misson leader Sarah Brown all the way to Havana. All of this, plus Detroit has to keep his his fourteen year long engagement to his eager fiancee Miss Adelaide sweet, and keep the aggravated gangs of gamblers at bay. Including hits such as ‘Luck Be A Lady Tonight’, ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat’ and ‘My Time Of Day’, this timeless musical has been entertaining audiences all over the world for over 60 years.
Guys and Dolls once again returns to the UK, but this time at the Chichester Festival Theatre, running until September 21st. It is the first time the show has been in the UK on a large scale since the star-studded 2005 West End production, but this time the “star” of the show is not necessarily on stage, but as part of the creative team. Carlos Acosta, one of the worlds most well-known and accomplished ballet dancers has been drafted in to choreograph the show and he is joined by West End regular choreographer, Andrew Wright, who worked at Chichester last season on Barnum (for which he is currently working on for the UK tour).
When Acosta and Wright are given a dance break and a handful of the athletic and energetic dancers, the show really creates magic. The choreography is slick and precise, focusing on strong technique, speedy pirouettes and powerful leaps, which re-creates the feel and style of 1950s. Acosta also manages to stage musical numbers, which could have felt cramped due to minimal stage space, that have ease and style. This is ever present when the show travels to Havana towards the end of Act One, with the fast and energetic staging containing a strong cuban flair that feels fresh and exciting.
Due to the sizzling nature of the musical numbers, as well as the impressive (and unfortunately unseen) orchestra, that breathes life into the many different styles and moods of Loesser’s score, the scenes can sometimes feel a little slow. They can lack a bit of vitality and often make you want the ensemble of sprightly dancers to burst onto stage and add a little energy into the proceedings. A few of the gags were lost on me as I was sat just off to stage right and some of the staging ending up blocking the important factors of the scene. This is an aspect that surely should have been considered being that the Festival Theatre uses a thrust stage and two thirds of the audience have a side view of the show.
The chemistry between Clare Foster and Jamie Parker, who play Sarah Brown and Sky Masterson, was a lovely little treat and their rendition of the beautiful ‘I’ve Never Been In Love Before’, was sincere and heartfelt. Peter Polycarpou and Sophie Thompson are delightful together as Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide, and their moments together on stage, especially when its revealed how Adelaide’s mother believes they have spent their 14 years together, are fun and enjoyable to watch.
The show really hits it’s stride during one of the final numbers ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat’, when Harry Morrison’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson finally lets rip and leads the cast in a rip-roaring and vivacious number, full of simple but effective choreography and tight vocals and harmonies.
One of the most enjoyable factors of the show is the gorgeous scenery that frames the stage, full of adverts and product logos from the 50’s, like a nostalgic pinwheel, that when lit up, is a beautiful attraction to behold.
You can’t help but leave the theatre with more of a spring in your step as when you left but sadly, the less than stellar scenes don’t quite weave well enough throughout the show and make you feel as though something was missing from the production. Acosta’s work sizzles during the musical numbers, but unfortunately emphasises the weaker aspects of the show.
In true Chichester style, the show will most likely have life after this production, and that may be what it needs, a little work, and a stage that is a little larger and not surrounded by audience members will allow this production to hit the highs it is so close to hitting.
Reviewed by Oliver Williams
Guys and Dolls is playing at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 21 September 2014. Click here for more information and to book tickets.