Guys and Dolls is a glitzy, lavish musical spectacle in the very best of Broadway traditions.
The play, badged as a 'musical fable of Broadway', tells the story of a group of New York gamblers and their girlfriends. Nathan Detroit (Colin Stinton) needs $1,000 dollars to pay for a venue for his legendary crap game. To raise the money, he wagers his incurable betting friend Sky Masterson (Clarke Peters) that he can't get prim missionary Sarah Brown (Joanna Riding) to accompany him for a night in Havana. Sky woos the girl for money but the two quickly fall in love after a drunken, steamy night in Cuba. Meanwhile, Nathan is under pressure from his own girlfriend Miss Adelaide (Imelda Staunton) to end their 14-year engagement (and consequently, her psychosomatic flu symptoms) with a trip down the aisle.
The play, with music and lyrics by the remarkable Frank Loesser, is based on the stories and characters of Damon Runyon who was himself inspired by his own underworld connections in 1940s New York. This production captures beautifully the feel of the era from its jumble of bright neon signs (including the smoking Camel man) to the costumes, set changes and the DJ-clad, Glenn-Miller-type swing of the Choo Choo Band. The production also pays a nod to the famous 1955 film version - starring Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Jean Simmons - with a drop-down screen that rolls the opening and closing credits in the style of old black and white cinema classics.
All of the cast, both the leads and the chorus, turn in top-notch performances. Special plaudits must go to Imelda Staunton and Clive Rowe. Staunton plays the long-suffering Miss Adelaide to hilarious, caterwauling perfection. And Clive Rowe is exceptional as Nicely-Nicely Johnson whose nervous, squeaky-voiced character launches into incredibly powerful song and dance. His 'Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat', which commanded no fewer than five encores, was the high point of the show.
In truth, though, this show has no real low point. The cast seems to be having a wonderful, rollicking time throughout and the good mood is infectious. Guys and Dolls is the best musical I have seen in a very long time.
This Richard Eyre production was first seen in the Olivier Theatre in 1982. It was revived last December and ran until March 1997. It returned this July to run in repertory until November. Tickets are going fast so book online while you still can!
Terri Paddock, July 1997