Guys and Dolls, Piccadilly Theatre, London

McGregor's charm makes fairy-tale of New York a hit
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The Independent Culture

The West End is alive with the sound of musicals and one really does feel like performing a Julie Andrews-like whirl of joy, because these musicals are, for once, the genuine article. Hard on the heels of Billy Elliot and The Big Life, we have Michael Grandage's utterly elating revival of Guys and Dolls.

The West End is alive with the sound of musicals and one really does feel like performing a Julie Andrews-like whirl of joy, because these musicals are, for once, the genuine article. Hard on the heels of Billy Elliot and The Big Life, we have Michael Grandage's utterly elating revival of Guys and Dolls.

This gifted director has hitherto relished staging pieces that are seen as flawed and making them work triumphantly. Certainly, the two previous musicals he has tackled (Merrily We Roll Along and Grand Hotel) fell into this category. So Guys and Dolls, Frank Loesser's well-nigh perfect 1950 show might seem an ironic choice.

But with this co-production between the Donmar Warehouse (of which he's artistic director) and the Ambassador Theatre Group, Grandage shows that his touch is just as sure with proven material and that the methods that have paid dividends for him in the small space of the Donmar (casting for character more than for voice, uncluttered design in the service of drama rather than decoration etc) continue to work on a larger canvas.

Guys and Dolls is a "fairy-tale of New York", peopled with sidewalk gamblers who in their stilted diction and their elaborate etiquette could rival, in formality, the courtiers at Versailles. Grandage's production pitches perfectly the show's mix of urban knowingness and pastoral innocence. Unlike Jerry Zaks' 1992 Broadway revival, he does not patronise the characters by reducing them to garishly garbed cartoons. Jane (Ally McBeal) Krakowski is an adenoidal delight as Miss Adelaide, radiating both the incorrigible romantic hopefulness and the bruised realism of the Hot Box stripper who has been kept dangling for 14 years by Douglas Hodge's winningly hapless and harassed Nathan Detroit.

As Sky Masterson, the smoothie who takes on Nathan's bet that he won't be able to lure Sarah (excellent Jenna Russell), the strait-laced Salvation Army girl on a trip to Havana, Ewan McGregor makes up in easy charm and seductive glamour what he lacks in natural vocal skills, though he sounds a lot better than Marlon Brando in the movie and lets rip with a perfectly placed final high note in "Luck Be A Lady".

It's an evening rich in show-stoppers. In the Havana sequence, Rob Ashford's terrific choreography embroils Sky and Sarah as pawns in a fiercely funny and sexy feud of erotic jealousy danced out by two hot-blooded locals. Like those wondrously convenient dice owned by the gangster Big Jule ("I had the numbers taken off for luck but I remember where the spots formerly were,") this production looks to be a sure-fire winner.

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