Guys and Dolls @ Empire
By site contributor Spencer Leigh
Frank Loesser’s classic musical runs at the Liverpool Empire until June 9th. Spencer Leigh reports.
“Guy And Dolls” is one of the great stage musicals, although I had only seen the 1955 film version with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando. It was revived in the West End in 2005 and such actors as Patrick Swayze, Don Johnson, Ewan McGregor and Claire Sweeney have been involved. The original production was directed by Michael Grandage and this touring version is directed by LIPA graduate, Jamie Lloyd. It arrived at the Liverpool Empire this week and will continue until June 9.
The touring version does not feature international stars and we have a soap star and a “Pop Idol” contestant in the leading roles. Shawn Williamson (Barry from “EastEnders”) had lampooned his desperation for work in Ricky Gervais’ “Extras”, but he is a fine actor and, although his singing would not cause Frank Sinatra any headaches, he copes very well with the songs.
The impossibly tall Darius Danesh has it easier as almost anyone could sing better than Marlon Brando. He is a little young for his role as the die-hard gambler, but he is very engaging, and his relationship with the small Sarah Brown (Louise Dearman) creates its own comic momentum, especially in the lavish dance routine when they visit Havana. The Salvation Army girl gets drunk and performs a very funny and immaculately timed version of “If I Were A Bell”.
The musical is constructed around Damon Runyon’s depiction of petty criminals and card-sharps in New York. There is no sense of danger about any of these characters, even the big-time gangster Big Jule (Miltos Yerolemou) from Chicago, but that was the intention from the outset. It is, after all, subtitled “A musical fable of Broadway”. The characters are all played larger than life and with such joie de vivre that it is like turning the pages of a comic book.
The fast-talking, slang-infested dialogue is fun but hard to follow and in particular, I had difficulty with what the showgirl, Miss Adelaide (Lynsey Britton), was saying. It hardly matters as the plot is predictable and for that matter, full of holes: for example, surely no one in 1950 could have gone from New York to Havana one afternoon for dinner and returned the same evening.
The main reason for seeing “Guys And Dolls” is the score and even after nearly 60 years, this is exciting and vibrant. It is wonderful to hear it being played by an 18 piece orchestra conducted by James Dunsmore and sung and danced by a large cast.
The dance number which leads into “Luck Be A Lady” is sensational, but the high point is the gospel pastiche, “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” performed by the whole cast led by a Stubby Kaye-lookalike, Christian Patterson, as Nicely Nicely Johnson. In summary, “Guys And Dolls” is a marvellous night out and it is recommended highly.
I must just add a postscript - Frank Loesser was a bad-tempered composer and when he was out with his wife, he was known as “the evil of two Loessers”. And that fabulous joke has a wonderful provenance – George Martin told it to me.
last updated: 25/06/07