Rebel Wilson and the Comedic History of Miss Adelaide
Rebel Wilson is the latest addition to the Chichester Festival Theatre's Olivier nominated revival of classic musical Guys and Dolls, which is currently running at the Phoenix Theatre. Whilst the show has enjoyed numerous revivals in the West End and on Broadway, as well as countless regional and amateur productions around the world, audiences continue to flock to the show, with many listing it as the most 'perfect' musical, citing the structure and comedy of the book alongside Frank Loesser's unforgettable score.
Whilst the show itself demands repeated viewings, there is one role in particular that keeps audiences returning to see the show, that of Miss Adelaide. As one half of the 'secondary couple', it is often argued that Adelaide is the most engaging character in the show, thanks to her comedic narrative that involves the longest engagement in history, and her mix of production numbers at the Hot Box with some of the most well-known character numbers even written for musical theatre.
Jo Swerling and Abe Burrow's book brings together various strands from Damon Runyon's Broadway, drawing on the short stories "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" and "Blood Pressure"to craft a neatly divided original story that follows the traditional structure of musical comedy. With Sky and Sarah Brown as the primary couple, involved in the 'love' plot, it is left to Nathan and Adelaide to provide the secondary supporting couple, holding most of the show's broadest humour.
The role of Miss Adelaide was specifically written for Vivian Blaine, the original performer who created the role on Broadway, in the West End and in the 1955 film version alongside Frank Sinatra. Because of the role's in-built humour and potential for comedic individuality, many exciting actresses have since taken on the role and made it their own.
Australian comedian Rebel Wilson is the latest in a long line of performers who have stepped into the role around the world. Speaking in press junkets ahead of the production, Wilson has spoken about her wish to broaden her characters and professional career, taking on a lead role in the West End to broaden her skill set. When asked about her usual improvisational ability within films and on stage, Wilson commented that she would find it difficult to not bring too much of her own personality to the role, remembering she was playing a character within the context of a wider musical.
Over the years various actresses who have taken on the role have made it their own, with many becoming the most memorable aspect of the production. There is huge scope within the role for individual experimentation, and both Sophie Thompson and Samantha Spiro who played the role in the current revival received strong reviews for their portrayals.
Below, we look at the actresses who have taken on the role over the past half a century.
Vivien Blaine (Original Broadway, Original West End, Film)
As the creator of this role, Blaine was synonymous with Miss Adelaide throughout her whole career, often performing the key song at concerts and benefits. Her stage credits on Broadway went on to include Follies, Company, Damn Yankees, Take Me Along and Hello, Dolly!, and her role in the film production helped cement her performance for years to come. Watch below as she performs the song “Adelaide's Lament” at a special Tony Awards ceremony.
Julia McKenzie (1982 Revival)
The National Theatre's acclaimed production of Guys and Dolls has gone down in history as one of the definitive stagings of the show. Originally conceived by Laurence Olivier, the revival took place during Richard Eyre's tenure at the venue, and went on to run for over four years after transferring into the West End. Acclaimed theatre performer and 'Ms Marple' Julia McKenzie created the role of Miss Adelaide opposite Bob Hoskins, and went on to win the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Preserved on the National Theatre Cast Recording, her performance paved the way for more musical theatre success, including the original London productions of Follies and Into the Woods along with the National Theatre's 1993 revival of Sweeney Todd.
Lulu (1984 London Revival)
Popular singer Lulu took over the role of Miss Adelaide when the production returned to the National Theatre in April 1984, attracting a new crowd to see the musical. Having previously starred on stage in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, it was a brief but successful crossover into musical theatre. Check out her performance of one of the show's raunchier numbers here:
Faith Prince (1992 Broadway Revival)
The 1992 Broadway revival of the show reinvented and reintroduced the musical to the popular musical theatre canon. Critics fell over themselves to praise this production, which starred Nathan Lane opposite Faith Prince, drawing widespread acclaim and numerous Tony Awards. Prince acted as a benchmark for all future performances of the role, and continues to be fondly remembered for her performance. Check out the footage from the Tony Awards below:
Imelda Staunton (1996 London Revival)
Richard Eyre revisited his staging of the musical for a limited run at the National Theatre, bringing original Hot Box Girl Imelda Staunton to the central role of Miss Adelaide opposite Henry Goodman and Clive Rowe. The show was nominated for three Olivier Awards.
Jane Krakowski (2005 London Revival)
One of the most memorable modern performances of the role was in Michael Grandage's West End revival which featured the American comic actress and Tony Award-winner Jane Krakowski. Her unique charm and self-referential comedic timing reinvented the role once again, with Jane winning the Olivier Award for Best Featured Performance in a Musical.
Ellen Greene (Hollywood Bowl 2009)
Hollywood Bowl productions of classic musicals bring shows to a huge outdoor audience in Los Angeles. Original Little Shop of Horrors star and comedian Ellen Greene brought her own unique voice to the role in 2009, opposite Scott Bakula.
Megan Mullally (April 2014 Concert performance, Carnegie Hall)
Another successful concert version of the show saw the 'Will and Grace' star Megan Mullally take on the role she was born to play. Having already proven her musical comedy skills in shows such as How to Succeed..., she was a natural choice for Miss Adelaide, and received excellent reviews.
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