Guys and Dolls at The Royal Albert Hall | Review

Guys and Dolls Royal Albert HallAs a reviewer, you are not supposed to take that much notice of the venue but concentrate on the show you are seeing. However, I don’t think anyone could ignore the Royal Albert Hall. No matter how many times you visit there, nothing prepares you for the sight when you enter the auditorium, either going up into the arena or down into the stalls – and thanks to my lack of ability to read signs, I did both – the scene that awaits you is absolutely amazing and adds an instant touch of magic to the show before it even starts. So it was when I went there this weekend to see a semi-staged production of Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ Guys and Dolls.

In 1920s New York, Nathan Detroit (Jason Manford) is trying to find a location for his self-proclaimed “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York”. Since his game is illegal, he has to ensure that he doesn’t fall foul of the local police. More importantly, he needs to be certain that his long-term fiance, cabaret singer Miss Adelaide (Meow Meow) doesn’t find out what he is up to. Nathan has found a location – the Biltmore garage – but, as he tells his two ‘associates’, Benny Southstreet (Joe Stilgoe) and Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Clive Rowe), Its owner, Joey Biltmore, requires a $1,000 security deposit and a Nathan currently has the sum total of zero dollars in his pocket, he needs to find a way to raise some cash quick. Luckily, committed gambler Sky Masterson (Adrian Lester) is in town and he is a man who is ready to take a bet on almost anything. So Nathan gets Sky to agree that Sky must take a woman of Nathan’s choice to dinner in Havana, Cuba. If he fails, then Sky gives Nathan the $1,000 he needs so much. In an attempt to ensure his victory, Nathan chooses the pious and beautiful Sergeant Sarah Brown (Lara Pulver), of the Save-a-Soul Mission, as Sky’s dinner partner. Can Sky convince Sarah to go with him? Will Nathan get the money for his game and can he set it up without the police or Miss Adelaide finding out? Will Miss Adelaide ever get a wedding ring on her finger? And finally, what will happen when the leader of the Save-a-Soul Mission General Cartwright (Sharon D Clarke) turns up with news for Sergeant Sarah?

Director/Choreographer Stephen Mear has really put together a first-rate production of Guys and Dolls. I’ve never seen the musical, or even the movie version, before so seeing this semi-staged version really whet my appetite to see the ‘real thing’ as it were on the London stage. Though the chances of getting a stellar cast like this, together with the Royal Philharmonic Concert orchestra under Musical Director James McKeon in the West End for a run are so slim, even Sky wouldn’t take a bet on it. The story itself is nicely set up with various interwoven threads that, in accordance with the rules of musicals, come together, in the end, to give a feel-good happy ending. The only issue I had with the story is that is very much of its time and blatant misogyny runs all the way through it. Aside from the fact that it seems to be impossible in this world to mention a woman except as a ‘doll’ there is also a problem with a couple of the songs. On the whole, I loved the way the songs basically seemed to be an extension of the script, so were totally relevant to the story being told. However, both of the songs in the Hot Box nightclub – “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink” – seemed to have been put into the show simply as an excuse to get dancing guys out titillating the audience. Aside from that, there are some absolute belters in the show – “Adelaide’s Lament”, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” and of course “Luck Be a Lady” – that really add some panache to the story.

To fill in the gaps, Guys and Dolls utilised Stephen Mangan as narrator which keeps the production moving nicely. Adrian Lester is nicely smooth as Nathan and interacts really well in his scenes with Lara Pulver – whose drunken Havana scene is wonderful – feel really authentic, like two people genuinely falling for each other. Jason Manford brings his excellent comic timing to the role of Nathan and has a surprisingly good singing voice. However, the star of the show for me was the absolutely wonderful Meow Meow who totally stole the show as Miss Adelaide. Whether banging out a raunchy tune or singing a sad solo, Meow Meow really nailed the performance and brought every nuance of Miss Adelaide’s character out. She, like the rest of the cast, were helped by Morgan Large’s costumes which really spectacularly captured the look and feel of the era.

Overall, and dodgy treatment of women aside, I really loved this production. Guys and Dolls is a pretty amazing show that really demonstrates how music and text can be seamlessly integrated to form a really spectacular story that, especially in the context of the Royal Albert Hall, provides a fantastic evening’s entertainment.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

The Royal Albert Hall rolls the dice this October with a semi-staged version of the classic musical comedy, Guys and Dolls, directed and choreographed by two-time Olivier Award-winner, Stephen Mear.

This sizzling, New York tale of gamblers, gangsters and nightclub singers – plus one missionary – features some of Broadway’s greatest show-stoppers, including ‘Luck Be a Lady’, ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ and ‘My Time of Day’.

Though songs from the show have been performed at the Hall by artists including Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis, Jr., this is the first time Guys and Dolls has ever been presented in its entirety at the venue.

Guys And Dolls
Royal Albert Hall, London
19th-20th October 2018

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