As a lover of musicals ‘Guys and Dolls’ has always had a soft, non-Bechtel test passing, place in my heart.
As a result I jumped at the chance to see it in live concert in such a unique and breathtaking venue as the Royal Albert Hall. To my delight and youthful nostalgia, the show entirely kept me jumping and ready to bounce out of my seat the whole way through.
Stephen Mear choreographed and directed a brilliant piece that I feel was made for him to bring to life. He obviously has a deep love and respect for the golden era of Hollywood and Broadway as he scrimped on no aspect of the quality of this musical as modern versions of more traditional musicals are apt to do.
I especially fell in love with the dance numbers which were beautifully created to show off the dancers skills and technique with jetes, fuetes, and jazz a-plenty. The number which especially stood out (and rightly so when it comes to this musical) was the underground gambler’s den movement. Everything was worked to perfection. It didn’t matter that the dancers were cast to be physically distinct, some exceedingly tall even. They were used to seamlessly highlight their strengths, acrobatics here, ballet there, but above all, they were resoundingly together in their movement and that speaks of a creator with a perfectionist eye which, is an absolute must for Guys and Dolls.
The performances of the lead four were flawless. Adrian Lester gave a beautifully nuanced turn as the highest gambler there is, ‘Sky Masterson‘, showing so much more range of emotion and power than Brando ever did in the film. As a result, I believed his progression and love for Sarah Brown much more, especially when it came to his “Luck Be A Lady” which had less of Brando’s cool murmuring and more stakes. His chemistry with his leading lady Lara Pulver as ‘Sgt. Sarah Brown‘ was lovely and very believable and so very easy to watch and buy into from the get-go.
Jason Manford as ‘Nathan Detroit‘ was really fantastic, especially knowing that he is more comedian than musical theatre. It did feel a bit though that he pulled certain lines for laughs instead of letting them naturally land and so I felt he, ironically, could have been a funnier Nathan. However, this was more than made up for by the near show-stealing performance of Meow Meow as ‘Miss Adelaide‘. She never missed a beat, a note or a turn. She was so beautifully stylised and made the role so her own that everything she did got a reaction from the audience. Her performance was sheer brilliance and she very quickly became and stayed the audience’s favourite.
The other aspect that made this show so unforgettable was the performances by some of the supporting characters. This show really gave adage to the phrase, “there are no small parts, just small actors“. Even characters with one-liners fully invested in their characters. Favourites included, Paul Nicholas as ‘Arvide Abernathy‘, whose “More I Cannot Wish You” was so heartfelt and true I actually could see my mother singing it to me, such was his care and affection for his granddaughter Sarah in her search for love.
Clive Rowe as ‘Nicely Johnson‘ was flawless every time he came on stage but his “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” was definitely the number of the show. He employed all his wide range of vocal talents effortlessly and left us just as agape as at the end of the underground gambler’s dance sequence. Lastly but not least, Sharon D. Clarke gave one of the most characterful ‘General Cartwrights‘ I have ever seen. Even with her few lines, she made the audience love her. It’s a pity her incredible singing chops were not used as much as she is capable of and, having seen her in Ma Rainey at The National, I feel this was one weakness of the show.
Guys and Dolls has set the bar for modern adaptations of musicals. Reminding us that musicals are about all three disciplines; singing, dancing and acting, and that none should let the others down an iota.
Its such a pity this production only ran for the weekend it deserved to be seen by as many people possible.
Guys and Dolls ran at the Royal Albert Hall from 19th – 20th October 2018