Royal Albert Hall, London
This semi-staged concert performance of Frank Loesser’s classic musical fully captures the spirit of the story and the characters that leaves you beaming from ear to ear.
If you are going to do Guys & Dolls there are two things that you have to do to ensure it is successful: one, ensure that you have an orchestra which knows exactly how to capture the joyous spirit of the show’s score and two, ensure you have a cast which has plenty of personality to bring the characters to life. Thankfully with this semi-staged production, both of these elements are in strong evidence.
Directed and choreographed by Stephen Mear, this lively and entertaining concert performance of Guys & Dolls brings together a suitably starry cast including Adrian Lester and Lara Pulver to bring the musical to life in a refreshingly new way. While moments of the dialogue have been cut out, the addition of Stephen Mangan as narrator to fill in the gaps of the story actually works surprisingly well – adding moments of unexpected humour and making the audience feel more intimately involved with the story despite the size of the hall.
Guys & Dolls follows the story of gambler Nathan Detroit (Jason Manford) desperately searching for a place to hold his next crap game while trying to keep it under wraps from both the police and long-term fiancee Miss Adelaide (Meow Meow). But in order to do this he needs a whole lot of cash and so bets fellow gambler Sky Masterson (Lester) that he can’t take missionary Sarah Brown (Pulver) to Havana – if he can’t then he has to pay Nathan.
With the help of some classic songs such as ‘Guys & Dolls’, ‘I Have Never Been in Love Before’ and ‘If I Were a Bell’, performed exquisitely by the accomplished cast and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the result is a sharply executed and entertainingly performed show.
While it can be argued that it is a very male-dominated musical, it still requires two strong and confident females to take on the roles of Miss Adelaide and Sarah Brown. Thankfully, both Meow Meow and Lara Pulver convincingly bring these two characters to life with great charisma.
Meow Meow in particular as Miss Adelaide is a true delight – spot on comical in terms of her characterisation, her bold personality really filling the Royal Albert Hall and her performance of ‘Adelaide’s Lament’ proving a real highlight. Meanwhile, Lara Pulver is the perfect choice for the prim and proper Sarah Brown, convincingly portraying her character’s initial reluctance towards Sky’s offer of dinner and is absolutely spot on vocally as her rendition of ‘I’ll Know’ along with Adrian Lester proves.
Meanwhile, Adrian Lester as Sky is charming and suave – to the point he is almost too much so, not allowing any roughness that you would expect from a hardened gambler to show how he is softened by a mission sergeant. But it is still a pleasing performance and I particularly enjoyed his rendition of ‘My Time of Day’. Jason Manford as the bumbling Nathan is able to bring plenty of comedy to the role as well as impressively strong vocals that makes it a enjoyable performance to watch. Elsewhere, Clive Rowe is brilliant as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, bringing even more joy to proceedings with his rendition of ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’.
As well as the music, Guys and Dolls is as much about the choreography and Stephen Mear offered some great hints of how he would approach it if this version would be made into a full scale production. The crapshooters ballet sequence in particular is smooth, energetic and a real delight to watch, keeping the element of gambling consistently in the minds of the audience.
Overall, this was a wonderful way to celebrate Frank Loesser’s classic musical, leaving this doll with a huge smile on her face and humming the songs happily all the way home.
By Emma Clarendon