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Guys and Dolls - a musical fable of Broadway

Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, based on a story and characters of Damon Runyon Music by Frank Loesser
Chichester Festival Theatre
Chichester Festival Theatre

Ian Hughes and Harry Morrison with Guys and Dolls Company Credit: Johan Persson
Harry Morrison, Peter Polycarpou and Ian Hughes Credit: Johan Persson
Sophie Thompson (Miss Adelaide) and Hot Box Girls Credit: Johan Persson
Jamie Parker (Sky Masterson) and Clare Foster (Sarah Brown) Credit: Johan Persson

Guys and Dolls is a joyous, glorious celebration of post-war Broadway, a tale of gamblers, gangsters and showgirls who just might (or might not) be converted to a more moral life by the Samaritans, or maybe by love.

Originally written in the 1920/30s in the Prohibition era, and in the individualistic humourous style which became known as Runyonesque, it was not performed as a musical show until 1950 when Swerling and Burrows brought it forward in time to the post-war years and the happy optimistic mood of that era. It became an instant hit, winning five Tony awards. I expect no less from this fabulous production which ticks all the right boxes.

There is so much to praise I don’t know where to begin, but Larry Blank’s orchestration comes high on the list with a score which perfectly complements the action, often emphasising the lyrics and enhancing the humour.

This is particularly true in the comic songs of long-engaged Miss Adelaide, played superbly by Sophie Thompson, who endears herself to the audience from the beginning and received the biggest cheer at curtain call. Her “Take Back Your Mink”, a striptease act by Adelaide and the Hot Box girls, is a comical joy, timed to perfection.

Peter Polycarpou is great as her fiance, the fast-talking and witty hustler and gambler Nathan Detroit, avoiding marriage for fourteen years—but for how much longer?

Equally high is the choreography by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright. Complicated, inventive, fast moving and acrobatic, it is performed with exuberant enthusiasm. Particular high spots are the Crapshooters Dance in the sewers (only place they could find for their game), the dancers in Havana (a hot number with Cuban rhythms and in Tropicana style but with a few more clothes), and the show-stopping “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat”.

Harry’s Morrison’s lollipop-sucking Nicely-Nicely Johnson takes that number and gives it his all, dance and song bringing such an emotional high that the whole company has to join in. Even the stern, autocratic General Matilda (Melanie La Barrie) loses all inhibitions.

The charismatic coupling of Clare Foster and Jamie Parker as the sedate, religious Sarah Brown and brash and confident Sky Masterson brings in the love story with Sky taking on a bet that he cannot get Sarah to go to Havana with him. He does, but does he win the bet?

This is where a milkshake with a little of the ‘native flavouring’ brings out a hidden side to the girl, and leads to the dawning of romance with “I’ll Know When My Love Comes Along” exquisitely sung, Foster’s beautiful voice soaring to the heavens.

Peter McKintosh’s set captures the essence of night-time Broadway with neon-lit signs and the rather lop-sided Salvation Army Mission hut looking a little out of place. The switch to beneath the ground and into the sewers is just amazing.

The show is chock-full of classic hit songs, each one led into by the story and the comic sketches, and the music is exquisitely performed by Gareth Valentine and his orchestra.

This is the first time Guys and Dolls has been performed at Chichester and American director Gordon Greenberg has created one terrific, happy show, all ending on a high note. My next question is ‘’When can I go again?

Reviewer: Sheila Connor