Frank Loesser’s 1961 hit musical doesn’t get a London airing very often, so this revival, from director Benji Sperring, is an exciting chance to see the show. As you would expect from the creator of Guys and Dolls, Loesser’s smart score has a satisfying complexity, served well by Ben Ferguson’s musical direction and Wilton’s acoustics. The story is a neat idea, too – following the corporate career rise of a former window cleaner, J Pierrepont Finch, aided only by guile and a self-help book. While many of the jokes are laboured, a committed cast gives its very best.
Sperring’s actors adopt an exaggerated style that’s apt, fun, and makes light of the outmoded working environment and sexual politics on offer. The cast gets a lot from camping it up, especially the lead, Marc Pickering – a charismatic comedian with a strong voice. Also benefitting are Matthew Whitby and Daniel Graham as Finch’s dastardly colleagues, accompanied by Richard Emerson, who multi-tasks a shocking number different roles… at least that’s one thing that reflects current workplaces.
The mannered treatment might have been pushed further; not so much with the performances but rather Mike Lees’ set and costume design. Maybe even more drastic measures are needed – especially given the cringing sexism of the piece. Despite valiant efforts from all the actresses, no matter how tongue-in-cheek the delivery, there are too many uncomfortable moments. Hannah Grover sounds sweet as Finch’s love interest, but this character makes Miss Adelaide look like Germaine Greer. Her sidekick is more interesting. Played by Geri Allen with a voice perfect for this music, she almost manages to make you forget that she is singing about marriage being a woman’s ultimate goal.
Of course, Sperring doesn’t take any of the show seriously. His production’s silliness builds pace and humour (despite a lot of moving office furniture) while Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography gets funnier throughout. The actors are unfailing in their efforts but it’s a shame a more ruthless approach wasn’t taken. The germ of how to deal with the piece’s problems is clear to all – but more of an aggressive takeover is needed to make this business succeed.
With so many shows on offer in London, it’s unusual to see the same production twice. But the latest hit from the Chichester Festival Theatre, a brilliant revival of Frank Loesser’s classic musical of gamblers, gangsters and their gals, has a new cast that makes revisiting as joyous as the first time around.
The production is also on a parallel UK tour, and Peter McKintosh’s clever neon sign design is sure to serve the show well on its travels. A fine ensemble does justice to the choreography from Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, while director Gordon Greenberg gives the show a Broadway feel despite its modest size.
Gavin Spokes remains with the show to reprise his brilliant Nicely Nicely Johnson and get yet more encores for Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat. Joined by Jason Pennycooke as Benny Southstreet, this is a double act that gets the show up to speed double quick. Siubhan Harrison also remains in town, ever more comfortable in her role as Salvation Army Sergeant Miss Sarah. Playing her love interest Sky Masterson is Oliver Tompsett, who gives a fine performance showcasing a surprisingly old-fashioned voice – he’s a proper crooner, sure to acquire fans. If the chemistry and charisma you might hope for isn’t quite magical, the humour is spot on.
Greenberg’s focuses on the fun in Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book. As a result, it is low-rent fixer Nathon Detroit and his long-suffering fiancée Adelaide who become our heroes. Chichester’s original casting coup (David Haig and Sophie Thompson) is, if anything, bettered. American comedian Richard Kind takes over as Detroit, adding a down-at-heel quality that makes this smalltime crook all the more appealing, while Samantha Spiro is wonderful as his eternal bride to be, with comedy skills second to none and a belting voice that makes the most of Adelaide’s Lament and brings a Dietrich spin to Take Back Your Mink.
Another hit transfer from the Chichester Festival Theatre which, after its production of Gypsy, must be feeling at home in the Savoy. This exquisitely polished show matches the venue’s sophisticated glamour perfectly. New Yorker Gordon Greenberg directs, bringing an appropriate feel for Broadway to Frank Loesser’s “musical fable” of men about town and their much put-upon women.
Great material, superbly executed, the show’s hit songs sound better than ever. At the risk of being ungallant, the guys have the edge slightly, creating a big sound and working together to get the laughs. Greenberg pays attention to the humour in Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book, following two gamblers, the high-rolling Sky Masterson and fixer Nathan Detroit, placing their bets on matrimony to, respectively, a Salvation Army sergeant and a nightclub hostess. Space is created for a series of strong comic performances, especially from Gavin Spokes and Ian Hughes, as Nicely Nicely and Benny – a double act to die for. This gang of gamblers forms a coherent group that’s more than just a background note to the love affairs on offer.
A further highlight is the production’s strong choreography – they’ve got both Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright on board – with a trip to Havana generating a genuine fantasia as well as a spirited fight scene. Peter McKintosh’s design is a simple affair that will serve the production well on tour, but aids the dancers immeasurably. The key is the lighting (bravo designer Tim Mitchell) impressively adding structure to scenes. And special mention goes to the gloriously colourful costumes.
The central performances are superb. These characters are grown-ups and the balance between romance and realism is deftly handled. While Siubhan Harrison stalls slightly as Salvation Army Sarah, failing to exploit the book’s satire, Jamie Parker is a hit from the start as Sky. Charismatic and sounding superb, Parker adds tension to Luck Be A Lady – a revelatory performance of a well-known number. Close to stealing the show are David Haig and Sophie Thompson as Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide (we all recognise the cracking chemistry from Four Weddings And a Funeral). Haig is at his most charming and Thompson makes both renditions of her Adelaide’s Lament something to celebrate.