When it comes to naming my favourite musical of all time, I always say it is Guys and Dolls, Frank Loesser's 1950 homage to Broadway's own alternately gritty and witty streets (other people often cite West Side Story, also set on the streets of Manhattan but a little west of Broadway towards the Hudson River, or My Fair Lady, set a few thousand miles away in Covent Garden!)
But I love Guys and Dolls unashamedly and unreservedly for the supreme wit and style of Jo Swerling and Abe Burrow's incisive, clever distillation of Damon Runyon's classic stories and characters, the gloriously tuneful Frank Loesser songs that accompany it, and the sheer, propulsive momentum it achieves as it takes us on a hilarious tour of the vagaries of the human heart and other baser instincts.
The National Theatre had, in its early pre-South Bank days, once lined up Laurence Olivier to play Nathan Detroit and Geraldine McEwan as Miss Adelaide, in a production that would have gone down in history but never happened. Instead, the National famously revived the show in 1982 in a production that starred Bob Hoskins and Ian Charleson (neither of whom are with us anymore), Julia McKenzie and Julie Covington, which itself made history (and was revived at the theatre in 1996) and has set the benchmark for all future revivals.
Since then another new production, courtesy of the Donmar Warehouse in the West End, saw Michael Grandage direct a stripped-back, black-and-white version in 2005 that starred Douglas Hodge, Ewan McGregor, Jane Krakowski and Jenna Russell. I can never get enough of Guys and Dolls, so I'm happy to welcome this new production, first seen 17 months ago at Chichester, back to the West End where it is alighting for 3 months as part of a longer national tour.
With Gareth Valentine leading a brassy, punchy orchestra, that pulsating score comes once again to irresistible thrilling life, and an ensemble of superbly drilled dancers give the choreography of Andrew Wright and Carlos Acosta athleticism and exhilaration. But the gleaming heart of the production lies in the parallel stories it tells of two couples — Nathan Detroit, a crap game fixer and Miss Adelaide, a nightclub hostess who describes herself as "the well-known fiance", who've been engaged for 14 years and counting, and professional gambler Sky Masterson and Salvation Army "mission doll" Sister Sarah Brown, who've just met.
Jamie Parker and Sophie Thompson reprise their Chichester roles as Sky and Miss Adelaide respectively, and if Thompson is a bit too much for me with her over-exaggerated vocal and physical mannerisms, Parker is a complete delight, effortlessly suave and richly voiced. They are newly joined by the always-excellent David Haig as a comically lovable Nathan Detroit and Siubhan Harrison as an enchanting Sister Sarah, finding herself caught off-guard by love.
But the production is cast in strength throughout, with lovely support from Gavin Spokes and Ian Hughes as Nathan's side-kicks, and Neil McCaul and Lorna Gayle as Sister Sarah's missionary associates.
To borrow a couple of song titles from the show, more I cannot wish you that luck be a lady for you to get tickets to see it.
"With outstanding leads and fizzing choreography from Carlos Acosta, the classic gambling musical is staged with elan."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"A joyous revival."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"From the start, the 26-strong ensemble throw everything they’ve got at this – energy, gusto, devotion; they sweat enough to shame a battalion of gym-bunnies.."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"This production proves the irresistible charm of this great American musical."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard