Though now packing more girth than guns, Johnson still looks in good nick – as some appreciative whistles from the audience at first sight of him demonstrates – but age, or boredom, seems to have caught up with him nonetheless. He moves with glacial speed on stage as if trying to conserve his energy, limply delivering his lines (with only the barest hint of a New York accent) and missing nearly every comic cue. His Nathan is slow, slow, slow.
But he’s not alone. Fatigue has set in throughout much of Michael Grandage’s production. Seeing it again for the first time since it opened, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s become a shadow of its former self. Tired and tarnished. Moments when the pace quickens (thanks in large part to Rob Ashford’s still brilliant choreography), in Havana, the crap game and, that perennial showstopper “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat”, serve as sad reminders of what this show could and should be.
Johnson’s current co-stars – Samantha Janus (a bright spark as a bubbly Miss Adelaide), Norman Bowman (Sky Masterson) and Amy Nuttall (Sarah Brown) – are replaced from 6 February by Claire Sweeney, Ben Richards and Lisa Stokke, who, let’s hope, will inject some much-needed vitality into this now plodding production.
NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from September 2006 and an earlier cast change for this production.
Well, after having to delay his West End debut due to a chest infection, Patrick Swayze has now officially arrived in Michael Grandage’s multi-award winning revival of Guys and Dolls. The Dirty Dancing star still has the moves and, judging by the cheers and wolf whistles, still has pulling power too, despite seeming (dare I say it?) just a tad too old.
His approach to the character of Nathan Detroit is slightly too much of a caricature, but he certainly captures the fun of the musical comedy style with his big grin. His singing voice is good, and although it sounds untrained compared to the other principals, it suits the role. Swayze works hard at the part and seems to be having a ball, despite having not quite found his “comfortability” yet.
Elsewhere, Claire Sweeney as a buxom Miss Adelaide has had a head start on Swayze by starting her run a few weeks earlier. She has a pleasing singing voice and can dance with the rest of the hot box girls, but she has not quite got the hang of Adelaide’s permanent cold – which here seems to come and go – and although she has fun with the character, she is not entirely believable as the long-suffering nightclub-dancing fiancé of a gambler.
Meanwhile, the less prominent characters are still dancing and singing up a storm, while the fantastic Kelly Price and Adam Cooper continue to charm as Sarah Brown and Sky Masterson. The Havana nightclub scene is the strongest in the show, and the subtle comedy, believable characters and excellent performances of these two really show the celebs how it should be done.
- by Caroline Ansdell
Note: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from March 2006 and this production's previous cast.
Sally Ann Triplett and Neil Morrissey (who were last on the West End stage together in Acorn Antiques) as Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit have built up a nice rapport. Though the characters are clearly in love, they have also been engaged for 14 years, so their comfortable devotion contrasts beautifully with the new love and chemistry between Adam Cooper’s Sky Masterson and Kelly Price’s Sarah Brown.
Though singing is not his strongest skill, Morrissey’s “Sue Me” when he finally convinces Adelaide that he really loves her is very touching, and his acting is strong throughout. Triplett’s Adelaide is sweet and sassy, and while her cartoon-like facial expressions give the comedy some punch, in the humorous “Adelaide’s Lament”, the true heartbreak and anxiety she feels at still being unmarried is exposed, creating a fully rounded, very human character.
Price - who has risen through the ranks in this production from the much smaller role of Martha to really get a chance to shine as the evangelical Sarah - proves her worth with her endearing characterisation. She's hilarious in the Havana nightclub scene, and her “If I Were a Bell” is a treat.
Her guy, Cooper (best known as a dancer whose credits include Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake), shows here that he's a true triple threat as his singing and acting come into the limelight. Though not quite as confident in his acting as the other principals, he does convince as Sky and his singing is top quality.
Rob Ashford’s choreography remains extremely slick and the cast all pull it off with impressive panache. Whatsonstage.com Award winner Martyn Ellis, who has stayed on from the previous cast as Nicely Nicely Johnson, makes “Rockin’ the Boat” an Act Two highlight, along with Triplett and Price’s spirited “Marry the Man Today”.
The production might be nearing its first anniversary, but it’s still on top form and is well worth seeing with this highly talented cast.
- Caroline Ansdell
NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from December 2005 and this production's second cast.
They sometimes say that if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life; but even the tired of life may get a new lease of it from a trip to the edgily romanticised view of the New York underworld represented in Guys and Dolls. This is, quite simply, quite possibly the most lovable musical ever written: the construction is faultless, the characters memorable, and the tunes adorable.
It’s damning with faint praise to therefore say of a production that you almost can’t go wrong with it, but it’s also difficult to put a fresh spin on something so deeply ingrained and familiar. The particular triumph of Michael Grandage’s more darkly textured production than I have ever seen before is that it does give us something new: it anchors the action in a grittier reality.
That creates interesting tensions between the show’s hard-edged new form and its softer underbelly. And it pays rich dividends in the kind of fine attention to character as well as atmosphere that Grandage has his actors give to it. But seeing it again with three out of the four original principal actors now changed, it has also now become more properly the kind of ensemble show that is Grandage’s signature. Ewan McGregor’s star presence before as Sky Masterson was an inevitable focus puller, and Broadway babe Jane Krakowski also drew the eye (not to mention libidos of the heterosexual men in the audience) as a Miss Adelaide who strips virtually naked to bare her breasts (a Krakowski signature).
They have been succeeded by Nigel Harman and Sarah Lancashire respectively, two actors widely known for their TV appearances in EastEnders and Coronation Street respectively; but this is no stunt casting. Both of them have solid musical theatre pedigrees from before they went into telly, and are able to call on that training now to invest their starring stage roles with strong vocal performances. Lancashire is an utter revelation, combining toughness and vulnerability that renders Miss Adelaide’s predicament of being “the well-known fiancée” much more plausible. (With Krakowski, you couldn’t believe that anyone wouldn’t want to rush her up the aisle; though Lancashire is still quite a catch, she’s a more ordinary kind of girl, except when she sings – and takes the roof off). Harman, too, has a more ordinary charm than McGregor’s star voltage; but it also serves to make him more appealing.
The other newcomer, Nigel Lindsay’s Nathan Detroit, doesn’t register quite as strongly, but in his musical theatre debut, he confidently holds the stage. Jenna Russell, who continues as Sister Sarah, remains utterly enchanting.
- Mark Shenton
NOTE: The following THREE-STAR review dates from June 2005 when this production first opened.
One of Broadway’s greatest-ever valedictories to the very streets where it lives, Guys and Dolls has, ironically, had more revivals here in the last quarter of a century than on the home turf that it so gloriously celebrates. Spearheaded, of course, by Richard Eyre’s now indelible National Theatre production of 1982 – itself revived there in 1996 – Michael Grandage’s new staging is the show’s third time around in London, against one Broadway revival (directed by Jerry Zaks, in 1992) over the same time frame.
But even if I can honestly recite the entire script and lyrics by heart now, there is something so irresistibly fresh about the peerlessly witty book and lyrics and Frank Loesser’s immorally tuneful score that it emerges as if newly minted each time. And this production – billed as Donmar Warehouse production, but staged directly into the West End rather than on its small Covent Garden stage – does something both radical and sensational with it: it applies the Donmar’s unique aesthetic onto a larger canvas, but with no loss of detail or sensitivity.
It’s not just the famous brick back wall of the Donmar that has been integrated into Christopher Oram’s set as a key design feature, but there’s also the same intense focus on characterisation and atmosphere, rather than bedazzling spectacle, that typically marks out a Donmar musical.
It’s refreshingly different from the start. Whereas the National’s production will always be remembered for the blaze of neon that the stage of the Olivier erupted in, Oram’s set -- framed by steel girders and with Broadway’s famous lights picked out merely in light bulbs -- is like a black-and-white movie version of the same scenario.
But if this is scenically stripped-back, the colour is instead gloriously supplied by the total absorption of a crack cast into inhabiting this world of Broadway gamblers, nightclub hostesses and missionaries, as Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling’s book – based on characters from Damon Runyon’s short stories of New York life – charts two parallel romances.
While gambling organiser Nathan Detroit desperately searches for a home to convene his celebrated crap game in, Miss Adelaide – “the well-known fiancée” to whom he’s been engaged for 14 years – is plying her own particular trade at the Hot Box. She suffers from a permanent cold – whether it’s “on account of dancing with hardly any clothes on, which is what I usually wear”, or because of “psychosomatic symptoms” because of her partner ’s commitment problems. Meanwhile, professional gambler Sky Masterson finds himself unexpectedly dating “missionary doll” Sister Sarah Brown, as a result of a bet.
The production’s big commercial calling card, of course, is the fact that movie actor Ewan McGregor is making his stage musical debut as Sky; and while he predictably cuts a suave, elegant figure, he emerges as a confident song-and-dance man, too, tested to the hilt in both departments on choreographer Rob Ashford’s galvanising musical staging of ‘Luck Be a Lady ’. And while there have been funnier Miss Adelaide’s – notably those of Julia McKenzie and Imelda Staunton at the National – none have been sexier than Jane Krakowski, who reveals (almost) all in ‘Take Back Your Mink’.
But it’s the less-showy performances of Douglas Hodge’s Nathan Detroit and Jenna Russell’s Sister Sarah that make an even stronger impression, partly and paradoxically because both draw less attention to themselves. Instead, like the best Donmar performances, they are utterly absorbed into their characters.
It’s better than even money that this is going to be another smash hit; and I’ll lay you eight to five that you’ll have a great time.
- Mark Shenton