There was absolutely no need for me to see Guys and Dolls again. The National Theatre staged it in the 1980s and revived it in the 1990s, the Donmar (at the Piccadilly Theatre) staged it in 2005; I saw all three and I loved all three. Yet, on a cold, wet January evening, there can be no better way to lift the spirits than re-visiting this joyful romantic romp that many argue is the greater comedy musical of them all and one fix per decade isn’t really overdosing on it. Gordon Greenberg’s exuberant production arrives in the West End having begun life in 2014 at the Chichester Festival Theatre, Good old reliable David Haig is a terrific Nathan Detroit, reunited with the divine Sophie Thompson (this couple’s wedding was one of four in a very famous film), who achieves the near-impossible by matching Imelda Staunton’s performance as the lovelorn Miss Adelaide. Jamie Parker scores his third London triumph in a year, stamping his personality all over Sky Masterson and confirming his ranking as probably the best male singer currently working in British musical theatre (if they can’t find a song or two for Harry Potter to sing, what a waste of talent that’s going to be). And Siubhan Harrison oozes charm as Sky’s lucky lady, Sarah Brown. The supporting performances, bringing to life Damon Runyon’s rich array of characters, are also spot-on, particular praise going to Gavin Spokes who, as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, gets an ovation rousing enough to rock the boats on the nearby Thames. The show is described as “a musical fable of Broadway” and the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows sparkles with wit, while even the most familiar of Frank Loesser’s songs here sound fresh and new. Peter McIntosh’s glittering set and costume designs are eye-popping and the dance routines are as lively and imaginative as any that I have seen in the West End – the Havana club scene is particularly stunning, but, as Carlos Acosta is joint choreographer (with Andrew Wright), that is not so surprising. Too much praise for one show? Probably, but this really is a production that send the audience back out onto the Strand on a cushion of air, looking for superlatives. When the revival for the 2020s comes round, the bar will have been set very high indeed.
Performance date: 25 January 2016