GUYS AND DOLLS
Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling & Abe Burrows
Based on a story & characters by Damon Runyon
The Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP
Concert performances 19 & 20 October 2018
Review: William Russell 20 October.
The greatest Broadway musical in a less than great production
The greatest of all Broadway musicals, or so many believe, this splendid show based on the stories of Damon Runyon, seldom gets the cast it deserves. On the face of it this concert performance directed by Stephen Mear might have had that cast, but the vast spaces of the Albert Hall reduced the players to almost faceless marionettes and the over amplified sound seemed to reverberate round the place adding to the impression that voices were not coming from faces.
Nobody, with the exception of Meow Meow as Miss Adelaide and Clive Rowe as Nicely Nicely Johnson in his Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat solo – albeit a badly staged – coped with the sheer amount of space into which they had to project their performances. Rowe has played the role before to acclaim. But Meow Meow was a surprise, tarty, funny and moving with speed round the stage she delivered her numbers perfectly. The one exception was the final duet with Sarah Brown, Marry the Man Today which they appeared to throw away, again a staging fault. It also has to be said that in Take Back Your Mink the furs in question she was telling the man to take back as she wasn’t that kind of girl looked like bunny rabbit which rather spoilt the impact of the number, although she rose above it seamlessly.
Mear is noted as a choreographer and the dance routines were spectacular, especially Luck Be a Lady, but this is a show for characters and songs not dance routines.
Adrian Lester as Sky Masterson was pallid, while Jason Manford as Nathan Detroit, Miss Adelaide’s perennial fiancé, might as well have not been there for all the impression he made. Laura Pulver sang sweetly as Sarah Brown from the Mission, but, although an award winning actress, she is not a familiar face and reduced to a stick insect made no great impression. Why the great Sharon D Clarke was playing General Cartwright, head of the missionary society, I have no idea. If ever there was a waste of someone’s time and talent that was it. At least Paul Nicholas as Arvide Abernathy, the mission’s wise old man, got a song to sing and delivered it with grace. As for Stephen Mangan, who narrated the story, he could have been a robot. Writing about his players in the programme Mears says they are not “run of the mill casting.” But that is how it looked – and sounded.
The show about the floating crap game seeking a home and the bet between Nathan and Sky that the latter will not get Sarah Brown to go with him to Cuba is virtually indestructible. It survived and the orchestra under James McKeon performed the score as it should be done having the resources usually denied these days to the theatre pit.
For those who have never seen it in a theatre the evening probably passed muster. For those who love the show, and musical fans do so with a passion, they could always shut their eyes and listen. As an evening to remember it was, if not one to forget, not one which could be called memorable.
Sarah Brown: Lara Pulver.
Sky Masterson: Adrian Lester.
Miss DELAIDE: Meow Meow.
Nathan Detroit: Jason Manford.
Narrator: Stephen Mangan.
Nicely Nicely Johnson: Clive Rowe.
General Matilda B Cartwright: Sharon D Clarke.
Avide Abernathy: Paul Nicholas.
Benny Southstreet: Joe Silgoe.
Rusty Charlie: Cory English.
Martha: Alexis Owen-Hobbs.
Agatha: Nia Jermin.
Calvin: Matthew Whennell-Clark.
Big Julie: Sevan Stephan.
Harry the Horse: Dan Burton.
Lieutenant Brannigan: Julian Forsyth.
Angie the Ox: Stephan Anelli.
Mimi: Rachel Stanley.
Ensemble: David Fienauri, Stebie Hutchinson, Nia Jermin, Ross McLaren, Ebony Molina, Jo Morris, Alexis Owen-Hobbs, Cris Penfold, Jak Skelly, Rahcel Stanley, Alexandra Waite-Roberts, Matthew Whennell-Clark.
Student Ensemble: Kamau Davis, Jack Hardman, Sam How, Aaron Jordan, Connor Pratchett, Matthew Pringle, Tobias Richard, Jesse Thornton, Murray Williams.
Director & Choreographer: Stephen Mear.
Musical Director: James McKeon.
Designer: Morgan Large. Lighting Designer: Richard Rhys-Thomas.