Theatre Guys and Dolls Haymarket Theatre, Leicester

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The Independent Culture
In an essay in his book Utopia and Other Places, Richard Eyre makes a number of telling points about Guys and Dolls. "I never saw a stage production until my own," he writes, "not even the 1979 Half Moon Theatre production, whose director told me that Guys and Dolls was so good that not even a director could mess it up."

Another is his observation that the piece is essentially a play with music. For consistency of wit and musical inspiration, Frank Loesser's songs may be the best ever to grace a Broadway show, but they're never free-standing; each of them pushes the action forward. Indeed, as Eyre reports, the original director, George Kauffman, insisted on giving the play-aspect priority. "Good God," he was once heard to mutter, somewhat illogically, as he sprinted out of the lobby, "Do we have to have every number this son-of-a-bitch ever wrote?"

I was reminded of these things watching Paul Kerryson's revival at the Leicester Haymarket. The production isn't perfect, and, visually, Runyonland- Broadway looks a bit bleak around the edges. But it never condescends to the "fairy-tale" of compulsive gamblers colliding with mission girls by being either archly parodic or maudlin and it sends you out into the night feeling glad to be alive.

The cast have, by and large, the right kind of quirkiness for the roles. There's a lanky allure about David Leonard's warmly sung Sky Masterson that's humanised by a certain goofiness in the broad grin and by the way he keeps signalling that Sky's cool is far from securely nailed in place. To contemplate Peter Forbes's tubby, anxiously keen Nathan Detroit trying to shoot his cuffs in the cocky manner Sky has perfected is to realise anew the strange underlying innocence of these New York scapegraces, a feature that makes Guys and Dolls an urban pastoral.

As Sarah Brown, the Salvation Army girl who wanted to convert Broadway single-handed, Fiona Sinnott appealingly traces her progress from touchily defensive spiritual pride to squiffy abandon in Havana, and her singing of "If I Were a Bell" has wit and bell-like clarity. I feel churlish carping about the Adelaide of Geraldine Fitzgerald, as she's an actress I enjoy very much. But she's a smart brunette, Rosalind Russell-type of performer. Seeing her play Adelaide - who is no dumb broad but a woman whose common sense gets misted up by incurable romance to the extent of remaining engaged for 14 years to the same guy - you can't believe that she wouldn't have manhandled him down that aisle over a decade back.

All the same, Fitzgerald's ringing duet with Sinnott is one of the evening's highlights. "Marry the man today and train him sub...sequently" she sings, with a tremendous I-mean-business growl and fist-clench on that "sub". The other stand-out moment is Peter Edbrook's electric rendition, as Nicely Nicely Johnson, of "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat", surely the greatest present a Broadway composer ever made to fat character actors with high voices. But, then, Guys and Dolls is the greatest present Broadway ever bestowed on us all.

n To 27 January. Booking: 0116 253 9797

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