Guys and Dolls - National Theatre 1996

  • Date:
    Thursday, December 26, 1996

    Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys and Dolls is based on a story and characters of Damon Runyon. This production by Richard Erye is basically the same as the one he produced with success in 1982.

    The story centers on Miss Adelaide, a show girl who has been engaged to Nathan Detroit, a gambler who's no good, for fourteen years, and Sky Masterson, a classy intelligent gambler who falls in love with a missionary girl called Sarah Brown .

    This is a top notch production with great sets and superb performances. Katy Secombe, who was standing in for Imelda Staunton in this performance, is great as Miss Adelaide, so too is Henry Goodman , playing Nathan. Clarke Peters is a delightful Sky Masterson and Joanna Riding a fine Sarah. Without doubt this musical is well cast with so many good performances, which isn’t surprising as there are so many interesting characters to play with. My favourite being Nicely-Nicely Johnson played by Clive Rowe. He was funny, warm, convincing and you could tell he was really enjoying himself which shone out in his performance, but then you could see all the cast was having fun.

    Although I was not too keen on the music itself, this is one of those musicals where everything slots in to place and you get a very entertaining three hours.

    (Darren Dalglish)

    With all of the praise being heaped on this revival, it may seem a bit Scrooge like to raise a few doubts. However ......

    It seems to be a recurring fact of life in recent British revivals of American musicals that singing is not required of the principals. GUYS AND DOLLS has one of the finest scores of all shows, one of the reasons for the success of all revivals, in addition to the remarkably strong book.

    Clarke Peters is very talented - but he's a crooner. The lovely actress playing Sarah has a small wobbly voice - which was just as small and wobbly in CAROUSEL. In numbers which should vocally soar, we get little, tiny, mealy singing and crooning. Why is this acceptable? "I've never been in Love Before" is a big, romantic anthem, and show-stopping duet. In the NT production it just dies a quite death. It is a continuing astonishment to me that with the vast number of critics covering theatre in London, no one is ever willing to mention the fact that singers are thin on the ground in these musicals.

    In GUYS AND DOLLS I was also distressed to hear new orchestrations that made the scroe sound like a provincial production of CHARLIE GIRL, not a Tin Pan alley classic. Not the brassy, agressive sound of Broadway circa 1940's, but the smooth, guitar laden sound of that pub you would never go into in the 60's.

    When a singer misses a note at the opera, the press takes note. When an actor in a musical in London is totally unprepared and vocally wrong/inadequate for a role, it goes totally unnoticed. Hello! (With all of the praise being heaped on this revival, it may seem a bit Scrooge like to raise a few doubts. However ......

    It seems to be a recurring fact of life in recent British revivals of American musicals that singing is not required of the principals. GUYS AND DOLLS has one of the finest scores of all shows, one of the reasons for the success of all revivals, in addition to the remarkably strong book.

    Clarke Peters is very talented - but he's a crooner. The lovely actress playing Sarah has a small wobbly voice - which was just as small and wobbly in CAROUSEL. In numbers which should vocally soar, we get little, tiny, mealy singing and crooning. Why is this acceptable? "I've never been in Love Before" is a big, romantic anthem, and show-stopping duet. In the NT production it just dies a quite death. It is a continuing astonishment to me that with the vast number of critics covering theatre in London, no one is ever willing to mention the fact that singers are thin on the ground in these musicals.

    In GUYS AND DOLLS I was also distressed to hear new orchestrations that made the scroe sound like a provincial production of CHARLIE GIRL, not a Tin Pan alley classic. Not the brassy, agressive sound of Broadway circa 1940's, but the smooth, guitar laden sound of that pub you would never go into in the 60's.

    When a singer misses a note at the opera, the press takes note. When an actor in a musical in London is totally unprepared and vocally wrong/inadequate for a role, it goes totally unnoticed. Hello!)

    (Martin Platt)

    G&D is one of my all-time favourite shows, but I *hated* every aspect of this production, and am astounded that it could be done this poorly, particularly in such a big-name production. Perhaps the most telling fact is that the show ran *3 hours and 10 minutes*. From this, one can correctly deduce that 1) the song tempos were way too slow; 2) the action was way too slow-paced (from the number of dramatic pauses, the actors apparently thought they were doing Shakespearean tragedy); and 3) there were way too many unnecessary bits of dance thrown in, particular in the final scene/finale. What were they thinking? Other aspects fared no better: I hated all the lead actors except for Nathan, the sets were bland, the costumes were horribly ugly, the cut-down orchestrations were disappointing, and I could go on. While I applaud the non-traditional casting of Sky and Nicely with Black actors, their performances and/or the direction they got was hopelessly off-base. Sky had none of the charm or suavity the part calls for. Nicely was simply absurd talking in a squeaky-high voice the whole time, and while he did fine with Sit Down..., there was no call for four encores. If anyone can explain why this production was well-received, please enlighten me.

    (Carson T Schutze)

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