I first saw Guys and Dolls a year ago in the West End and it blew me away: it was exuberant, refreshingly old-fashioned and real good fun. But the touring version is like a low energy light bulb, in that it flickers to life, but only sporadically.
Damon Runyon's tale of small time loveable gangsters and their machismo ways is still endearing and engaging. But it needs a top notch cast to pull it off, particularly during some of the show stopping numbers like, "Luck Be a Lady". But, unfortunately, here the stage is filled with 'stars' that do not shine.
Ladies' man Sky Masterson should woo the audience. But instead, Ben Richards charms via his looks, but nothing else. His singing is simply lacklustre and his acting is wooden. Likewise, Brian Capron's Nathan Detroit has such a limited vocal range that it removes the power that his character is supposed to command.
Claire Sweeney does not fare any better as the sneezing Miss Adelaide. Lapsing into Liverpudlian every other line and failing to step up to Chris Bailey's choreography leaves the audience feeling very short changed.
Thanks heavens then for Louise Dearman and Christian Patterson as Sarah Brown, the missionary and Nicely Nicely Johnson. These two actors pull the show back from the brink. Dearman's comic timing is spot on, as is her singing voice. Patterson is tremendous, stealing many scenes. His "Sit down You're Rocking The Boat" has the Broadway pizzazz that the big names lack.
Another problem is that this production feels cheap and inferior to the original London show. Weak vocals, miscast leads and ill fitting wigs are just the tip of the iceberg. Much of the sound lacks amplification so snippets of dialogue on the night I attended went unheard. When the well known tune “Luck” falls flat, you know that you are watching something in need of more than a cold remedy. The whole thing feels as unconvincing as Sweeney’s version of the sniffles.
The ensemble are all superb though, giving the show the Big White Way treatment it truly deserves. There are several memorable scenes, including the Havana dance scene which does take your breath away.
But, like Sarah Brown, you have to pray a long time before you get what you want.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Opera House, Manchester)