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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Chichester Festival Theatre


  Sophie Thompson and Clare Foster/ Ph: Johan Persson

The opening night ovation that greeted Gordon Greenberg's revival of Guys and Dolls was in serious danger of shaking the rafters of the expensively refurbished Chichester Festival Theater and bringing the house down. Okay, I exaggerate. What I cannot exaggerate, though, is the sheer exuberance experienced by this theatre's regular first-nighters whose enthusiasm was as uncharacteristic as it was well deserved.

This is the most invigorating production I've seen at this venerable address since their wonderful re-invention of Cole Porter's Out of This World in 2004, and, without doubt, the slickest, most entertaining retread of Frank Loesser's masterpiece since its 1992 Broadway revival starring Nathan Lane and Faith Prince.

With the possible exception of Sophie Thompson, there are no stellar names in the cast, and again, with the exception of Thompson, no stand-out performances. The cast works as a well-oiled ensemble, each illustrating the consummate skill and know-how that has gone into every moment of this pitch-perfect miracle of a musical. It's the show itself that is the shining star here.

Few musical comedies of the period are as smart as Guys and Dolls, or as funny, or as brilliantly written and constructed. Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows' book is as fresh and sharp today as it was in 1951.

Loesser's music and lyrics are, of course, imperishable, while those unforgettable low-life Broadway denizens created by Damon Runyon – Harry the Horse (Mark Heenehan), Angie the Ox (Michael Peters), Nicely Nicely Johnson (Harry Morrison) and Big Julie (Nic Greenshields) – continue to give the show much of its colour and its unique tone of voice.

Jamie Parker plays the suave, high-rolling Sky Masterson, who bets a thousand bucks he can whisk Clare Foster's Sarah Brown to Havana. Peter Polycarpou is the marriage-shy Nathan Detroit, and Thompson is Miss Adelaide, star of the Hot Box Revue and Nathan's long-suffering fiancée of 14 years (and counting.)

Though it's Thompson in the showiest role who generates the loudest laughs and the longest applause (her added bits of business in Adelaide's famous lament are hilarious), the rest of the cast respond so well to Greenberg's inventive direction and to Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright's infectious choreography (most notably in "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat"), they more than compensate for a certain lack of stellar wattage.

I've seen funnier, more pointed stagings of "Take Back Your Mink," and the Runyonland opening could have had more zip to it. These quibbles apart, the show is a joy and a delight and, as designed by Peter McIntosh, always good to look at. It's a no-brainer that such an exemplary production of a matchless Broadway classic deserves a West End transfer.


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