REVIEW: GUYS AND DOLLS (Royal Albert Hall) ★★★★

Having premiered on Broadway in 1950, Guys and Dolls has been hailed variously as ‘the perfect musical comedy’ and ‘a work of art’. A debate rages about whether the show has aged well (even the title is enough for it to be assigned retrospectively ‘problematic’ in some quarters), but even if you tire of the ‘dolls’ trying desperately to get hitched whilst the ‘guys’ gamble, the songs are there to wake you up.

‘Luck be a Lady’ is in safe hands with Adrian Lester as Sky Masterson, and Meow Meow is a revelation as Adelaide, delivering her famous ‘lament’ and the cheeky ‘Bushel and a peck’ with expert comic timing. Two-time Olivier winner Steven Mear has brought this production to the Royal Albert Hall – a heritage musical in a heritage venue – and it’s quite a space to fill.

Some performers fare better than others, with Stephen Mangan emerging victorious as our velvet-voiced narrator, alongside Jason Manford (best known as a presenter of BBC’s The One Show) giving a surprise star turn as Nathan Detroit. Clearly, the prospect of filling Frank Sinatra’s shoes hasn’t phased him in the least.

More than a few lines are lost in the Albert Hall ether though, and frequently the cast appear as though they’re working against the grand venue rather than with it. However, when this production delights, it really does: the dance numbers are full of spontaneity, and work wonderfully with the lighting and on-stage positioning of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra as another of the show’s true stars.

Sticking with the heritage theme, I took my 84-year old nan along as my guest for the evening. She was delighted by the performance and awarded the show 4 stars without hesitation – faithfully replicated here, because as all modern dolls know: theatre-going nans are to be respected.

Reviewed by April Delany

Photo: Roy Tan

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