The classics really do have their mega-fans. Chuckles and guffaws are thrown at the stage like a downpour of die on a poker table and my neighbour looks fit to burst with delighted glee. Guys and Dolls may be over 60 years old but it seems its appeal will never, ever flounder.
This “musical fable of Broadway” came off the back of WWII and smack into a time when optimism and fantasy were society’s new life choices – even if they didn’t know it yet. Guys and Dolls is steeped in tradition, with many claiming it stands the test of time, despite it gloating in an old-fashioned, albeit good-natured glow. Perhaps this is why it is so warmly received. Characters, reportedly based on real people, appear stereotypical, like Big Jule whose very presence is the epitome of the gangster – the one we associate with those old movies and, more recently, Martin Scorsese movies. Or there’s the charmer and the heroine who fights his advances, but inevitably is too powerless to resist. Of course there’s also Frank Loesser’s score and vastly impressive choreography that really has stood the test of time and could put many current West End musicals to shame.
The long, appreciative applauses that greet the majority of Guys and Dolls proves its stint at new home the Phoenix theatre will inevitably be a successful one – especially if the deafening roar that threatens to implode the building after ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat’ is anything to go by.
Whilst Peter McKintosh’s staging is indeed a spectacle – we are instantly greeted with the beautiful chaos of Broadway – there are often moments where it feels too much for the space itself. True, some of the production doesn’t need an epic stage, but the grand dance numbers do. Act One’s ‘Havana’ flings itself around like an octopus on speed as does Act Two’s ‘Luck Be a Lady’. They work great and impress everyone, but I can’t help feel a larger space would have created something special.
Taking over from Jamie Parker, Oliver Tompsett is a sizzling, charismatic Sky Masterson. Samantha Spiro (replacing the hilarious Sophie Thompson) is a delight opposite Richard King’s Nathan Detroit, easily spouting off line after funny line. Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright’s choreography is sensationally advanced, graceful and fluid. ‘Havana’ certainly wakes you up with sexy sass.
The script does feel outdated, as does the easy comedy, but the good-natured and cool intent lets it off. If you’re a fan of the ‘classic’ style of musical or the show itself then a treat you will indeed be in for. This not your type of theatre? Then it may feel a tad dull, though the dance numbers are just waiting to be appreciated with sore, sore hands.
Guys and Dolls is playing at the Phoenix Theatre until October 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Guys and Dolls website.