The long and lingering shadow of the now legendary Richard Eyre staging of Guys and Dolls is never far away from any new production of this Frank Loesser classic. Michael Grandage came close to knocking it into a cocked hat with his 2005 West End success but there is no fear of that happening with Chichester’s latest take on the Broadway fable.
Chichester has got a much deserved reputation of quality musical revivals and there is certainly a polished quality to Gordon Greenberg’s production. Unfortunately it lacks the heart and soul that could really make this musical great though and the initially impressive designs by Peter Mckintosh soon give way to boredom, never quite evoking the bustle of downtown New York.
The company all work hard and all genuinely look as though they are having a ball. The principals all hoof in a solid enough performance but don’t all manage to hit the spot in terms of likeability. Clare Foster as Sarah is suitably starched and naïve and has a splendid voice to boot. She plays the prim Sarah with great gusto and becomes unabashedly riotous in her Havana scenes whilst never dropping her vulnerability. Her Sky Masterson is charismatically played by Jamie Parker. Parker sings and moves with great skill but is a little too ‘boy next door’ for a character that inhabits the New York underworld so skilfully.
The other couple of the piece are less successful. Peter Polycarpou is a somewhat older and dishevelled Nathan Detroit. Polycarpou can always be relied upon to put in a good performance and is a great musical theatre man with a wonderful gift for characterful timing and energy. Somehow here he just doesn’t sit quite right in the role despite his sterling work to convince us otherwise.
His Miss Adelaide however is where things really hit the buffers. Sophie Thomson maybe an age match for Polycarpou but she is certainly not for Miss Adelaide. More ditsy old lady than airheaded showgirl Thomson is a contorted wrangle of nervous energy who becomes increasingly impossible to warm to. We know that she is a hypochondriac and that she’s not the sharpest tool in the box, but she is still supposed to be sexy enough to headline at the Hot Box nightclub twice nightly. It’s just not the case I’m afraid.
Support is solid but never spectacular throughout from the ensemble. Harry Morrison is the only one to really blow the lid off the place as he leads the highlight of the evening with Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat. Even the big Havana number lacks sizzle despite the Cuban born Carlos Acosta choreographing.
As the first musical to appear back on the newly refurbished stage at Chichester you wonder if they have played safe to avoid possible disaster, who could blame them. Whilst the Chichester audience lapped it up I can’t help but hope that there are better things in store for us later in the season.