Guys and Dolls, review of Rebel Wilson at the Phoenix Theatre
There comes a stage in many long-running West End shows when stunt casting arrives: where, in order to reinvigorate and prop up the box office, the producers parachute in 'star' names who may or may not be appropriate in talent for the task in hand, though they may be of interest in terms of celebrity. (Some shows even start with stunt casting and go downhill from there).
But sometimes it pays off, and just not financially at the box office. Such is the case with Rebel Wilson, the Australian-born film comedy star, who has been dropped, like a plus-sized bomb, into the cartoon world of New York conjured by composer Frank Loesser and book writers Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows in their immortal musical adaptation of Damon Runyon, and left to detonate with an sense of stage-owning mischief and brassiness.
Miss Adelaide, the nightclub hostess, dancer, and well-known fiancee, is a brassily hilarious, larger-than-life creation, and it plays to Wilson's comedic strengths. She may not, to be honest, be the best singer in the world -- but then neither would Miss Adelaide be, either, or she wouldn't be playing a dive like The Hot Box. She's here to put her body on display, and in a refreshing departure from the sexual stereotyping of the chorus girls around her, she's here to celebrate the fuller framed.
And with Simon Lipkin newly joining her as Nathan Detroit, the man who runs a floating crap game in New York but whom she longs to tame and domesticate, there's a real erotic charge between them: they can't keep their hands off each other. Lipkin, too, is a talented comedian, so there's humour as well as chemistry between there, and the one feeds the other (in every sense).
Meanwhile, a no less unconventional romance plays out between a smooth professional gambler Sky Masterson and "mission doll" Sister Sarah Brown, who runs the Times Square outpost of the Salvation Army at 409 West 49th Street. They are played by the more conventional coupling of the dashing Oliver Tompsett and Siubhan Harrison, who both look gorgeous and sing even more beautifully.
Guys and Dolls has long been my all-time favourite musical; this production, which also features some great supporting performances from a cast that includes Gavin Spokes and Jason Pennycooke as Nathan's sidekicks, Lorna Gale and Billy Boyle as Sister Sarah's missionary colleagues, and the massive Nic Greenshields as the appropriately named Big Jule, is a splendid account of it.