Savoy Theatre, Strand.
Guys and Dolls is one of those musicals that makes you smile from its very opening strains. I’ve loved the film since I was a child, though for different reasons at every age. When I was small I just loved the colour and the music; as I got older, I realised Jean Simmons’s waspishness, Fran Sinatra’s wiriness, Marlon Brando’s hipness and Vivian Blaine’s desperate sauciness were a of kind of magic that only visits rarely, on-screen or off.
The Chichester Festival Theatre’s production, transferred to the Savoy has been visited by that magic.
Jamie Parker’s Sky Masterson gives Brando a run for his stake, the good-bad guy who finds his entire lifestyle compromised by a throwaway bet. When he rolls that dice at the end of Luck Be a Lady, I truly believe his soul is up for grabs.
Parker’s cheeky, easy charm contrasts beautifully with Siubhan Harrison’s icy Sarah Brown. Poker-straight, there’s always a tickling of curiosity about the bad-life; it’s no surprise when she finally lets rip. I would, too, given the visceral, life-grinding energy of Carlos Acosta’s choreography, though during the biggest-hitter showstopper of them all, Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, I’d have loved Lorna Gayle’s General Cartwright to enjoy a chorus in the spotlight.
If Sophie Thompson as Miss Adelaide overacts just a teeeeeeeny bit, I’ll forgive her. She’s been waiting for David Haig’s Nathan Detroit to whisk her to the altar for 14 years. Haig plays Detroit with more perk than others, and with such a hopeless shrug it’s impossible not to like him.
And surely that’s the point. If you read Damon Runyan’s original stories no one’s really nasty. Not even ‘tough guys’ like Big Julie. They’re all big, soppy puppies, living in a cosy Broadway underworld that everybody knew even then didn’t exist. Harry the Horse, Rusty Charlie, Nicely, Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet – all live in a world of permanent present tense, of pie-eating contests and run-ins with the local coppers, worlds away from the monochrome bloodbaths and hollow-eyed street kids portrayed by photographer Weegee around the same time.
No, Guys and Dolls is as Technicolor as Weegee is Black & White, worlds apart in the same city. I love them both, but I know which one I’d rather spend an evening with. Guys and Dolls is a joy from beginning to end.
Guys and Dolls is currently running at the Savoy Theatre.