Reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
A story of gamblers, good girls and good time girls on the streets of New York, the touring production of Guys and Dolls isn’t a gamble if you’re after a good time.
Frank Loesser’s evergreen songs make this musical almost indestructible, and after an underpowered opening, a great cast and first-rate production ensure this touring version is pretty much unmissable for devotees of musicals.
Adapted from the stories of Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls is the tale of one long-established couple and one possible pairing. Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide have been together forever – a 14-year engagement has led the Hot Box showgirl to tell her mother they’re married and invent a horde of offspring.
Nathan’s more interested in running his floating crap game than rolling the dice on marriage and consequently, Miss Adelaide’s developed a bad, bad cold.
Wandering gambler Sky Masterson takes Nathan’s bet that he won’t be able to persuade Salvation Army ‘doll’ Sarah Brown to take a trip to Cuba with him. But the wily Masterson succeeds and while winning the bet, loses his heart.
Will old habits stop true love triumphing in the devil’s own city of New York? If you don’t know, that’s one reason to see this show, but there are scads of others. The central performances are hugely appealing, from Maxwell Caulfield and Louise Dearman as Nathan and Miss Adelaide, to Richard Fleeshman and Anna O’Byrne as Sky and Sarah.
Chemistry’s the secret of finding your sweetheart, according to Sky in the lovely I’ll Know, and it’s certainly a big factor here – each duo turns in note perfect performances, selling the comedy and romance big time.
Louise Dearman (Adelaide) and the Hot Box girls.Photo Johan Persson
Fleeshman works especially hard to act out the emotions of the songs, and succeeds in a performance of considerable charm; I can’t recall a Sky who combined swagger and vulnerability so convincingly. And as his foil and fate, the angelic voiced O’Byrne is delightful, especially in the Cuba sequence, giving a masterclass in stage tipsiness.
Caulfield brings an easy authority to Nathan and his duet with Miss Adelaide, Sue Me, is precision stagecraft. As for Dearman, she takes a gift of a part and hands the presents around, lighting up the stage with such numbers as A Bushel and a Peck and Take Back Your Mink, the latter being funnier than ever under Gordon Greenberg’s direction.
It’s a balanced set of leads, and they’re ably supported by the rest of the cast. The ensemble members have talent and vigour to spare, with the boys’ showcase being Luck Be a Lady and the girls’, the aforementioned Hot Box numbers.
They come together for the traditional showstopper, Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat, in which effervescent Jack Edwards, as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, leads saints and singers alike in praising the Lord. It’s a superb staging, with the gospel rousing and an unexpected injection of jazz that only makes an old favourite better.
With just one dud number – the sentimental More I Cannot Wish You, intended as a blessing but inevitably a lament – Guys and Dolls is a dream for an orchestra and MD Andy Massey’s players are audibly enjoying the evening.
Jack Edwards (Nicely Nicely) and Melanie Marshall (General Cartwright) and the company in Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat. Photo: Johan Persson
The choreography is a little more balletic than usual, presumably due to Carlos Acosta teaming with Andrew Wright to stage the numbers. The dancers work hard and bring the scenes to life with real verve, especially in the unexpectedly sexy Havana number.
The only thing which doesn’t work in this version is the backdrop. Which is also a ‘frontdrop’. Usually Guys and Dolls is presented on a stage dotted with illuminated street signs and buildings vanishing into the distance via cheating perspective. The set knows its place.
Here, though, the stage is dominated by a massive arch of illuminated advertising signs, so low as to make the players seem in danger of bashing their heads. They’re slightly hidden by exotic trees while we’re in Cuba, but otherwise impossible to ignore, making the playing area look cramped, claustrophobic.
It’s a bit distracting, but certainly doesn’t spoil a show that’s brash when it ought to be, and tender when sweetness is called for. A love letter to Broadway, Guys and Dolls will be thrilling audiences a hundred years from now, and this production reminds us why.
Running time 2 hours 50 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Tuesday 12 – Saturday 16 April 2016
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinees Weds, Sat: 2.30pm.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/guys-and-dolls/edinburgh-playhouse/
Guys and Dolls website: http://guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk/
Guys and Dolls on tour 2016:
12 – 16 Apr
0844 871 3014
19 – 23 Apr
0114 249 6000
26 – 30 Apr
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
0818 719 377
03 – 07 May
01603 63 00 00
17 – 21 May
The Mayflower Theatre
24 – 28 May
0844 848 2700
31 May – 4 June
7 – 11 June
0844 871 7648
14 – 18 June
Milton Keynes Theatre
21 – 25 June
0115 989 5555
28 June – 2 July
The Marlowe Theatre
5 – 09 July
029 2087 8889
12 – 16 July
0844 871 3012
19 – 23 July
26 – 30 July
0844 871 7645