Oh, how I would’ve loved to say I saw Ewan McGregor (pictured above) in the London production of Guys and Dolls. Sadly, by the time I got around to seeing the show, he’d been replaced by Adam Cooper. Don’t get me wrong, Cooper does a great job in the role, he may even be a far superior singer, but he’s still no Ewan McGregor.
Star-struck wishes aside, I have to say that Guys and Dolls is currently the best musical production in town. Everything about the show is perfect. The cast (even without Ewan), the sets, the lighting, the choreography, the songs and even the band. All perfect. I really can’t find a single fault with this show, which is amazing considering how much I usually love ripping live theatre to shreds in these reviews.
If you’re not familiar with the show (or haven’t seen the Frank Sinatra/Marlon Brando movie version), the plot surrounds a bunch of two-bit 1930s gangsters (happy pin-strip-wearing-illegal-gambling gangsters, not depressing chain-you-to-a-block-of-cement-and-throw-you-off-the-pier gangsters) and a series of bets they make with each other revolving around romance and an underground craps (dice) game.
The show was written by Frank Loesser, who is probably my second-favorite muscial composer of all time (after Jule Styne). It’s one of those extremely rare shows where every song is a memorable toe-tapping number. The only other musical I can think of that’s so consistantly reliable from start to finish is Gypsy. Like Gypsy, the songs in Guys and Dolls are well-integrated into the plot. There’s nothing here that’s done just for the sake of needing a big production number. It’s also one of those weird musicals (like Babes in Arms) where you know all the songs, but somehow forgot that they came from this show. Songs like, “Bushel and a Peck”, “Take Back Your Mink”, “If I Were a Bell” and “Ever Loving Adelaide”, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”. And, of course, “Luck Be a Lady”
The only problem with “Luck be a Lady” in the show is that we’re so familiar with the loud, brassy, swingin’ Sinatra version (which ironically he doesn’t sing in the film), that the original stage version always seems like a bit of a let-down. Seriously, after you’ve stood on the Las Vegas Strip, listening to Sinatra belt it out over loudspeakers while the Bellagio fountains sway in time and shoot 100 feet into the air on the trumpet blasts… well… even Ewan McGregor couldn’t top that.
Back on the plus side, I have to mention the superb staging. The lights, the scenery, the costumes… all brilliant. The producers decided to go for a slightly exaggerated realism, usually missing from most of the (traditionally more cartoony) productions. It was a perfect choice. You could almost smell the grime of the sewer set, and feel the tropical breezes on the Havana set. I only wished they had offered up Dulce de Leche cocktails in coconut husks at the intermission bar! (But, how long would that queue have been!)
If you’re in London, go see it quick, before (gack) Patrick Swayze joins the cast on July 10th.
More info: Guys and Dolls